Low cost air sensors monitor wildfire smoke

Libelium, air quality monitoring, air quality sensors, asthma in kids
Oregon schools can use inexpensive air quality sensors to decide if athletes should practice indoors away from wildfire smoke.

The Willamette Valley in Oregon is taking advantage of small, relatively inexpensive air sensors to monitor smoke in real time from wildfires in warmer months and wood stoves and fireplaces in the winter.

More than 40 air sensors from PurpleAir are installed at schools, parks and other public places in the area around Eugene and Springfield, according to a report from The Register-Guard.

Data from the sensors is aggregated on a Lane County Regional Air Protection Agency website. For example, on July 6, all 40 sensors showed good air quality, indicated in green.

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PurpleAir has also provided dozens of other sensors along the West Coast of the U.S., and several in southern California on July 6 showed red, meaning that “everyone may begin to experience health effects if you are exposed for 24 hours.”

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The Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA) invested in the network of sensors, which cost about $250 apiece and are the size of a grapefruit. All told, the hardware cost $10,000, but the agency spent about $5,000 building a GIS map, while it cost $15,000 to plan and develop the program, according to the report.

LRAPA also operates seven larger air monitors in Lane County that use more refined equipment and cost about $15,000 apiece. The larger monitors show a 24-hour average for air quality, while the smaller sensors show air quality in the moment.

Six schools in Springfield have small air sensors installed. The data from the sensors has been useful for fall-season sports teams to monitor wildfire smoke. Thick smoke and poor air quality in 2017 prompted Springfield to cancel practice or move it indoors.


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