Poor indoor and outdoor air quality is linked to one in eight deaths worldwide or 7 million, making it the world’s most dangerous environmental health risk, according to a March report by the World Health Organization.
Air pollutants like organic compounds, carbon monoxide, mold and other debris can cause headaches, fatigue, respiratory illnesses and worse.
That is the reasoning behind the European Union’s decision to fund a new nanotechnology project that would allow people to gauge air quality real-time at home, work and in cars with low cost, mini sensor systems, the EU’s community research and development information service announced Friday.
“The control of indoor air quality and the related comfort it provides should have a huge societal impact on health, presence at work and economic-related factors,” Claude Iroulart, coordinator of IAQSENSE, said in a statement.
The project, called IAQSENSE, aims to develop nanotechnology-based sensors to monitor the composition of air in terms of chemical and bio contaminants, designed to be tiny, low cost and mass-produced. France, Bulgaria, Germany, Switzerland and Spain are collaborating in the research and development of the project, and testing is expected to end in September 2016. The estimated cost is $6.8 million, $4.8 million contributed by the EU.
The gas sensor systems would be located in fixed places, connected to a network of wireless sensors that would rapidly detect gas molecules, one of three patented technologies the project would utilize. Applications in cars and smartphones would also be explored.
The European Lung Foundation estimates that respiratory illnesses in Europe costs about $141 billion each year in work absences and inefficiency. The foundation also believes that levels of indoor pollution may be ten times higher than levels outdoors.
Almost all of deaths associated with indoor or household air pollution in 2012 occurred in low and middle income countries, where people commonly burn wood, charcoal and trash inside for cooking, according to WHO data. About 88 percent of deaths from outdoor air pollution occur in low- and middle-income countries, particularly regions in and near China and India and secondly, Africa. Still, deaths from air pollution occur even in high-income countries. Nearly 300,000 Europeans living in high-income countries died from health effects associated with air pollution in 2012, WHO reported.