Breathing toxic air: Europe must urgently fill its air quality data gaps - Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on UnsplashEurope may not be the first place that comes to mind when the topic of air pollution arises. Yet, those living across the continent remain at considerable risk of life-threatening consequences. According to the European Environmental Agency’s (EEA) latest European city air quality viewer, just 11 cities are meeting air quality standards.

This pollution has a significantly detrimental impact on our health, causing heart and respiratory diseases and cancer. In fact, up to 10% of cancer diagnoses across the continent are attributed to air pollution exposure.

This public health crisis will only worsen if no substantial efforts to reduce the presence of pollutants take place. Businesses and policymakers have a vital role in mitigating this global issue. They can protect citizens worldwide through technological innovation and effective policies in urban and rural areas.

Innovators are providing solutions, but where do we deploy them?

Tech has a leading role to play in improving air quality globally. Innovators are actively working on vital solutions, including:

  • Electric vehicle technology that drastically reduces transport’s environmental footprint,
  • ‘Digital twins’ that can enable us to look into the future and predict changes in air quality over time,
  • Air purifying towers that draw in pollution and expel clean air. But how do we know where to deploy these promising solutions?

Here, data is key. The EEA’s European Air Quality Index provides insight into pollution levels across the continent. With this data, policymakers can identify hotspots to determine where intervention is most needed. For instance, in major cities, transport networks can be planned to steer clear of areas prone to poor air quality, or electric vehicle grants can be offered to those living in areas most affected.

However, with the EEA’s sensors only installed in areas deemed high risk, there are vast gaps in its network. This is the case in certain urban areas, where higher sensor density is needed to accurately show the ever-changing pollution picture of our cities. It is, however, also key in rural and less developed areas—those most likely to be exposed to pollution from uncontrollable wildfires, for example.

Without accurate supporting data to make informed decisions, there is a significant danger that millions of Europeans living in these areas will keep breathing toxic air. Air far below the required standards – as life-saving interventions are conducted elsewhere.

A community-driven approach to fill Europe’s air quality data gaps

It isn’t viable for governments to provide complete continental coverage. At PlanetWatch, we enable eco-concerned locals, businesses and authorities to take matters into their own hands through a community-based approach to air quality monitoring. We have already deployed tens of thousands of sensors across Europe by incentivising users to install air quality monitoring devices in their neighbourhoods and exchange data for our utility token.

This unique incentive-based model is key to engaging those with the most to gain from anti-pollution measures. Individuals can play an active part in helping governments and businesses improve their health by providing data for their own neighbourhoods, towns and cities. Plus, users are rewarded with tokens which can then be exchanged for various benefits, including the ability to plant a tree in PlanetWatch’s own forest on the Treedom network.

Once gathered, the resulting data are made available to companies and organisations working on world-changing solutions and policies. Through PlanetWatch’s proprietary application programming interface (API), users can retrieve critical insights drawn from an extensive network of sensors and stored on a blockchain to ensure data integrity and safety. We hope to support change-makers in building products and services by gathering hyperlocal, near real-time data and ultimately contribute to saving lives in high-pollution areas.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 99% of the global population is breathing contaminated air. That results in 300,000 premature deaths each year in Europe alone. Therefore, public and private organisations must ensure that every citizen is cared for as we take steps to improve Europe’s air quality. Effective action is desperately needed. Accurate data provided by a monitoring network like PlanetWatch can lay the groundwork for decision-makers to act before it’s too late.

PlanetWatchPlanetWatch is a French technology company with offices located in Pays de Gex region, close to the Swiss border, the city of Geneva and CERN. PlanetWatch seeks to leverage advanced technologies and the direct engagement of the population to improve environmental monitoring worldwide and help protect public health. Building a global network of outdoor air quality sensors, PlanetWatch records data on the Algorand blockchain, allowing users (PlanetWatchers) to earn reward tokens. Recently, PlanetWatch announced a large-scale deployment of sensors in the city of Miami, adding to its considerable global network of air quality monitoring capabilities.


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