Wearable sensors monitor air pollution

air pollution
Colorado State University researchers are developing new technologies and methods to assess worker exposure to occupational air pollutants. (Pixabay)

A team led by Ellison Carter and John Volckens in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering at Colorado State University has received a four-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control, to develop new technologies and methods to assess worker exposure to occupational air pollutants.

The team is developing a lightweight, inexpensive, wearable air pollution monitor for aerosol and vapor hazards that is ready to use out of the box and requires minimal user training.

The researchers plan to test them on several hundred workers in various industries—from emergency responders to product manufacturers and oil and gas drillers. The workers, who will participate voluntarily in the study, will help the scientists piece together a comprehensive analysis of occupational air quality.

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The CSU researchers are pivoting off an existing technology commercialized through Volckens' spinout company, Access Sensor Technologies. Volckens, an air pollution specialist and professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, led the development of a personal air sampler called the Ultrasonic Personal Air Sampler, or UPAS, that collects data on particle exposures using a silent, low-power micropump.

The new device will be a smaller, lighter version of the UPAS, explained Carter, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering who has studied the effects of air pollution policies in China.

"The technology development part is very exciting and drew me to this project," Carter said. "The iterative design and test process is fun and has an energy to it that I'm excited to be a part of."

As one of their study partners, the researchers will work with the Poudre Fire Authority to test their monitors on firefighters.

"First responders are one of the most vulnerable workforces to environmental hazards, they put their lives at risk, and they often pay the ultimate price," Volckens said. "Part of our challenge is to develop something so vanishingly small and quiet and unobtrusive that those first responders will have no problem wearing these devices. A primary goal of this project is to help workers gain the information they need to make decisions that protect themselves from the unseen hazards in the air around them."

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