A bus just passed by. I think I have a headache.
This is the sort of inane information that the most tweet-happy among us rush to share with the rest of the indifferent world. But when collected in a detailed, systematic manner and compiled in a central database, it’s also the sort of information that the Environmental Protection Agency desperately needs to get a handle on to fully understand the links between air pollution and public health.
The E.P.A., the National Institute of Health Services and the Department of Health and Human Services are sponsoring a nationwide competition for the invention of a personal portable air pollution sensor that can also monitor a person’s physiological response to the contaminants in real time. The contest, called the My Air, My Health Challenge, carries a $15,000 prize for each of four finalists and a $100,000 prize for the one that emerges as the winner.
“There has never been a direct, simultaneous measurement of what people are actually breathing — the nose-level exposure — and measurements of how their body is reacting — heart rate, lung function — to those pollutants,” said Glenn Paulson, the E.P.A.’s science adviser.
Historically, research on air pollution and public health have been conducted on separate but parallel tracks. One set of studies involves exposing lab animals or humans in a highly controlled manner to individual air pollutants and tracking the effects. The other line of research involves taking detailed measurements of air pollution over wide geographic areas, with averages calculated over days or weeks.
The challenge is to measure both at the same time wherever people happen to be — which usually isn’t on police station roofs, where air quality monitors tend to be installed.
via New York Times – JOANNA M. FOSTER
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