Backpack guinea pigs measure Capital air pollution

Volunteers monitoring city air pollution.Picture: Comp
Volunteers monitoring city air pollution.Picture: Comp
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VOLUNTEERS wearing special backpacks are collecting vital data to give scientists a detailed picture of just how people in the Capital are affected by air pollution.

The guinea pigs wear the backpacks – fitted with particle monitors and GPS satellite tracking technology – as they go about their daily business and keep them by their beds when they go to sleep.

The data recorded allows scientists at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to build up a clear picture of an individual’s exposure to pollution during a normal day.

Traditional air quality monitoring is done by machines at fixed points in the city, but the backpacks mean a more accurate analysis can be carried out of how pollution affects people.

Dr Stefan Reis, who is leading the research, said mobile air pollution monitoring equipment would be cheaper and more effective than investing in a larger network of fixed monitoring stations to cover whole cities.

He said: “It’s always easy to call for more monitoring but what we are trying to achieve is getting smarter monitoring.

“We’re not trying to cover the whole countryside or city with many, very accurate monitors, which are very expensive, but using the combination of personal sensors, monitors on buses or trams, together with existing networks to get a much better picture of the actual exposure of people in the city.”

Doctors have identified a strong link between exposure to particulate matter and the risk of heart attack.

Professor Dave Newby, of Edinburgh University and the British Heart Foundation, said: “We all think that when we breathe in air pollution, it must provoke pneumonia, or asthma or lung problems. But actually, it kills far more people from heart disease. What we’ve found is that the biggest trigger is the particulate matter that we breathe in. In the urban environment, the biggest contributor to that is diesel engines.”

Edinburgh has five air quality management areas - Central, St Johns Road, Great Junction Street, Inverleith Row at its junction with Ferry Road and Glasgow Road, Ratho Station.

The deterioration in air quality has been blamed on an increase in the volume of traffic. Nitrogen oxide levels in St John’s Road increased by 23 per cent over the two-year period to 2012, with Queensferry Road breaching the limit by nearly 13 per cent in 2013. At the Gorgie Road end, the A71 has seen annual mean concentration levels of nitrogen oxide increase close to the EU limit.

But the Scottish Government has rejected claims by environmentalists that ministers are failing in their duty to reduce air pollution levels.