The AirCare app displays air pollution, active fires, wind conditions, and pollen levels on a map.


While air quality has improved in North America and Europe over the past decade thanks to stricter environmental regulations, extreme weather and record wildfires have raised new concerns about air pollution.

This week, smoke from wildfires in Quebec and Ontario has drifted across the northeastern United States, with orange haze descending over New York City and unhealthy air quality levels continuing in the region.

As a result, more people are turning to mobile apps to see when air quality is getting better or worse, wherever they are.

As of Thursday, the Airnow mobile app is ranked sixth most downloaded A free app on the App Store for iPhone, it beats TikTok, WhatsApp, and Instagram.

The use of these apps and new installs are often driven by regional events.

In general, air quality tracking apps use a combination of data from government-run satellites, weather, fire, and ambient air quality stations, as well as sensors and systems operated by private sector entities to track smoke and pollution levels. Some applications operate on data obtained from the public from relatively affordable air quality sensors sold by companies such as Purple Air and IQAir.

Air quality apps and maps

Outdoor air quality monitoring apps like AirNow, AirCare, and AirVisual were among the most used apps in the country in years past when wildfires raged in Oregon and California.

Here’s what these three apps do:

  • AirNowAnd Created by the US Environmental Protection Agency, allowing users to search for air quality levels by zip code, or view Fire and SmokeMaps for the entire country with some available data on fires and smoke that may affect the US from Mexico and Canada. Like most air pollution trackers, it uses a color-coded visual system to indicate whether air pollution levels are good to dangerous, or if there is enough data to issue a rating.
  • AirNow also has online maps to give actionable general information about air pollution in any US zip file. These include a Fire and smoke mapAnd which provides information on fire locations, smoke plumes, and air quality AirNow interactive map Displays ozone and particulate matter from air quality monitors across the country. While particulate matter (also called “PM 2.5” or “particulate pollution”) is the main pollutant in smoke, ozone can also rise during wildfires.
  • Air careAnd Made by developers in North Macedonia, it is available for iOS and Android mobile devices, including iPhones, iPads, Apple Watch, and Huawei smartphones, among many others. Tiers include an ad-supported free version and a pro version that costs $39.99 per year. The app includes air pollution information, kid-friendly charts and maps that show pollutant levels derived from government-run sensors and stations, along with volunteer PurpleAir and other sensors across the US, Europe and Australia. In some major metro areas, the app also tracks UV and pollen levels.
  • AirVisualAnd Produced by Swiss air quality company IQAir, it tracks air pollution in more than 10,000 cities and 80 countries drawing on data from tens of thousands of sensors, some of which are stationed at US embassies abroad. The company’s free mobile apps are also ad-free and available for iOS and Android devices. Along with real-time maps showing levels of six different types of major pollutants, the IQAir AirVisual website and mobile provides seven-day air pollution and weather forecasts, along with air pollution news and health information. Apps can pair with company sensors, including mobile devices AirVisual Pro It retails for $299.

The South Coast AQMD app shows air pollution levels in Greater Los Angeles.


How does air pollution affect health

Monitoring and measuring air quality is critical to public health, according to Ianelli Nunez, an environmental health scientist who did her postdoctoral research at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

She notes that robust studies have shown that air pollution contributes to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lower respiratory tract infections – and even affects mortality, pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular disease.

Their research also found that long-term exposure to air pollution can affect the nervous system and may affect functions such as memory or cognitive abilities, said Nunez, from work in the Environmental Health Sciences Laboratory with the Marianthi-Ana Keumourtzoglu group of scientists.

And the scientists wrote in an email to CNBC in 2021: “Americans live in… Areas with poor air quality They tend to be people of color or low-income communities. We are finally starting to pay more attention to these issues, which we hope will lead to change. The composition of air pollution is also changing.

In one example, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation Dropped in New York City From 2014 to 2017, while commercial cooking emissions rose.

As wildfires increase, the scientists write, “the sources and composition of the mixture of air pollution we experience can differently affect our health, so we need to better understand the source-specific effects, especially for these newly eminent sources.”

Indoor air is also important

While outdoor air quality is important, society is not talking or doing enough Indoor air qualitysaid Richard Corsi, of the University of California, Davis’ incoming dean of the College of Engineering, who is currently a professor and dean at Portland State University.

Using pre-pandemic numbers, Corsi calculated that the average American will spend nearly 70 of the 79 years of their lives residing indoors. “Because we spend so much time indoors, even our exposure to pollutants of external origin is dominated by what we breathe there, especially in our homes,” he said.

Externally generated pollutants, which come from internal combustion engine vehicles, photochemical haze, refineries, and wildfires, can enter homes and buildings when doors and windows are opened, when heating and air conditioning systems are used, or through other cracks in the building envelope.

Corsi noted that today’s consumer applications and devices do not give users an accurate and absolute measure down to micrograms per cubic meter of a given pollutant. But they are very valuable in identifying trends and relative changes in air quality.

In addition, sensors installed indoors can work well to check if preventive measures are improving the air inside a home, school, or other building.

Corsi said some other simple actions that can protect or improve indoor air quality especially during wildfire season include: wet mopping floors and mopping surfaces so pollutants don’t build up, using HEPA or high-efficiency particulate air filters, and increasing the MERV or minimum. It is efficient to report the value of filters in home central air systems.

Wildfire smoke in Canada is causing hazy skies and unhealthy air quality in New York City


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