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Environmental Defense Fund Global Clean Air Initiative

A hyper-local map of London’s air quality details air pollutant concentration levels and sources of air pollution down to the city block as measured through a network of fixed and mobile sensors.

The problem

Air pollution takes a steep toll on human health and is the biggest environmental risk for early death. The World Health Organization reports that 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe air containing high level of pollutants and around 7 million people die every year from diseases caused by polluted air including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and respiratory infections.

The same threats harm our air and our climate, specifically the burning of fossil fuels in cars, power plants, and factories.

The initiative, and progress to date

In pilots EDF conducted in Oakland and Houston, Google Street View cars were equipped with fast response air quality monitors to collect millions of measurements of black carbon, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulates over many months at the street level, where people are breathing the air.

With the data, EDF and partners created hyper-local maps of air qualityThe maps show vast air pollution variations, as much as eight times higher from city block to city block, and how pollution varies over time.

EDF is using the sensor data to deepen our understanding of the health impacts and disparities among populations who live, work, and attend school in higher air pollution areas. A study in conjunction with Kaiser Permanente linked long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollutants with adverse cardiovascular health outcomes, increasing heart attack risk in the elderly by 40%. Results from Houston showed increased nitrogen dioxide levels, a significant contributor to asthma and bronchitis, outside almost half of Houston schools and childcare centers and higher pollution in lower-income communities and communities of color.

The maps and the impacts they illuminate empower governments and local advocacy groups to take action to stop pollution at the source.

Building on the pilots, EDF collaborated with the Mayor of London, C40, and others to launch Breathe London, an ambitious campaign to measure and map Londoners’ daily exposure to air pollution using sensors. After two years, the Greater London Authority officially announced the city’s commitment to take over the Breathe London sensor network, allowing this vital public health resource to continue to enable communities, governments, and companies to take actions that clean the air.

"Air pollution is a grave threat to the health of all Londoners, with the most vulnerable communities often hardest hit. The Breathe London community sensor network will equip our city with the data it needs to drive change and protect Londoners at both a local and city-wide level.”

Professor Alice Grast, President of Imperial College London

What’s next

EDF’s goal is to reduce air pollution by 25% against current projections in cities where 100 million people live. To that end, EDF launched and is engaging with cities around the world to leverage the air quality technology, data collection and analysis methodologies, and its “how-to guides” to design hyper-local air pollution monitoring networks and drive the adoption of equitable clean air policies and targeted mitigation efforts.