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Air Quality

Outdoor air pollution, in the most extreme cases, can be immediately identified even without any special training. It casts a haze over cities, collects on streets and buildings, and provides dramatic fodder for the news. But while high drama is often a prerequisite for news about air quality to be reported, the real story is the health impacts that occur even when the air isn't thick enough to see.


According to the EPA, Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. Most pollutants affecting indoor air quality come from sources inside buildings, although some originate outdoors. Typical pollutants of concern include combustion products such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and environmental tobacco smoke; substances of natural origin such as radon; biological agents such as molds; pesticides; lead; asbestos; ozone (from some air cleaners); and various volatile organic compounds from a variety of products and materials.

This is even more striking when the health effects attributed to outdoor fine particulate matter (PM2.5) rank among the risk factors with the highest health impacts in the world, annually accounting for over 3.2 million premature deaths. In October 2013, the World Health Organization announced they are considering particulate matter, a major component of indoor and outdoor air pollution, as a Group 1 carcinogen along with tobacco smoke and asbestos.


Title Updated Version Views
Air Sensors about 2 months ago by warren 11 1
PM Tools about 2 months ago by warren 3 0
Odor 3 months ago by imvec 30 3
Introduction to Particulate Matter 4 months ago by liz 86 7
Particle Sensing 6 months ago by warren 25 5
Optical Monitoring of Particulate Matter 9 months ago by warren 23 4
Silica Monitoring 10 months ago by warren 14 4
Dust Sampling about 1 year ago by warren 4 1


Title Author Updated Likes
What do we know about EPA National Emissions Inventory (NEI) data? @warren about 1 month ago
How can we connect a PMS5003 dust sensor to an Arduino? @warren about 2 months ago
Can biosolids promote certain types of mold growth in buildings? @Zengirl2 2 months ago
Low-cost air quality sensors to measure PM2.5, PM10? @bigmit37 4 months ago
Air quality balloons - an updated version? @Cindy_ExCites 4 months ago
What is the correct AQI measure ? @sagarpreet 6 months ago
Is there someone who can help pull and analyze Purple Air data? @stevie 7 months ago
Looking for hands-on help with a datalogger! @bronwen 8 months ago
Can MiniVol (TAS Particulate Matter Monitor) measure Black Carbon or Elemental Carbon? @stevie 8 months ago
Hey @matthew I am trying to build same PPM kit you guys have here. Where did you guys get the sampler stub? @Matej 8 months ago
what data-logger will work with my portable HCHO meter? @nshapiro 9 months ago
Lego Spectrometer suitable for studying sunlight? @jsbonillam 10 months ago
3 particle type @Ag8n 10 months ago
What are good humidity sensor/monitors to use with gas sampling kits? @gretchengehrke 11 months ago
Anyone in Ontario working on ultrafine particle pollution? @liz 11 months ago
What are different ways to collect respirable dust samples for analysis? @warren 11 months ago
What kind of Framework for Participatory PM2.5 can be used for creating monitoring cities? @stevie 11 months ago
What is the best way to take a sample of snow to look for particulates? @stevie 12 months ago
What are ways to make DIY filters to remove particulate pollution from indoor air? @Zengirl2 about 1 year ago
What are some ways to collect dust or particulate samples for analysis? @warren about 1 year ago
Training in odor identification? @Sara about 1 year ago
How do I choose between different types of air canisters for grab sampling? @stevie about 1 year ago
What are the relative rates of hydrogen sulfide oxidation in ambient air? @gretchengehrke over 1 year ago
Methods for or experience measuring workplace hydrogen sulfide gas? @gretchengehrke over 1 year ago
What type of health issues are associated with inhalation of ultrafine particles? @liz over 1 year ago
What do the terms attainment and nonattainment mean? @liz over 1 year ago
How do you account for signal drift with sensors in the field? @gretchengehrke over 1 year ago
Do you have resources on odor logs and odor reporting platforms? @gretchengehrke over 1 year ago
What are the health effects related to fine particles of calcium carbonate? @stevie over 1 year ago
AERMOD: Is it a good model? How has it been tested and verified? @marlokeno about 2 years ago
lightweight air quality sensors for a weather balloon @glenc about 2 years ago
What kind/size of microdust does activated carbon give off & how much of a concern is it? @jfrankamp about 2 years ago
In the plant based air purifier, could airflow go the other way, using an unmodified pump? @warren about 2 years ago
How can i know if my plant-based air filter is working? @liz about 2 years ago
Is CALPUFF a good air quality modeling tool @marlokeno about 2 years ago
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Purpose Category Status Author Time Difficulty Replications
Solar Powered Air Quality Sensor - - @nicholas - - 0 replications: Try it »
Inexpensive HEPA Filter Fan project to reduce air pollution - - @Melissa - - 0 replications: Try it »

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Activities should include a materials list, costs and a step-by-step guide to construction with photos. Learn what makes a good activity here.

Particle Sensing Projects

Public Lab has initiated a Particle Sensing Project focused primarily on Silica. This project overlaps with and includes the DustDuino and is coordinated on the Air-Quality Google Group.

A variety of particle sensors have been posted on the site:

Title Updated Version Views
PurpleAir 3 months ago by warren 13 3
MACA 7 months ago by nanocastro 4 5
MiniVol TAS Particulate Matter Monitor 9 months ago by warren 44 1
DustDuino about 1 year ago by warren 26 7
pDR-1500 over 1 year ago by mathew 6 2


DustDuino can help individuals with limited resources monitor PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations, indoors or outdoors. It uses Shinyei PPD42NS, a $15USD optical sensor that uses an LED and a lens to determine the concentration of dust in a partially closed chamber that draws in air from its surroundings.

Cypress Hills Air Quality (CHAQ) Initiative

In 2013, this 8 week Air Quality Class was created for middle-schoolers in the Cypress Hills Air Quality (CHAQ) Initiative, with support from the United States Environmental Protection Agency's program "Citizen Science: Community Involvement Today and in the Future". This project was a collaboration with the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation. Joe Saavedra and Liz Barry are the Public Laboratory facilitators. Georgia Bullen, Yael, and Jason Lipshin are involved from MIT.

Air Column Monitor

The air column monitor project is from the April 2012 EcoHackII at Parsons in NYC, which brought together a group of developers, "scientists", data visualizers and activists to work on the initial design.

Roomba Indoor Air Quality Mapping

This tool is being developed to experiment with visually mapping indoor air quality. A Roomba--the room cleaning vacuum--is programmed to travel all around a room once it is left to roam.


U.S. EPA Standards and Test Methods

National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)

Section 109 of the Clean Air Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) requisite to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety (primary standard) and for the protection of public welfare (secondary standard). Section 109(d)(1) of the CAA requires EPA to complete a thorough review of the NAAQS at 5-year intervals and promulgate new standards when appropriate.

Complete details of the standards, measurement principles, and data interpreation, can be found in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 50

Summary of the NAAQS Criteria Pollutants


EPA Test Methods

EPA approved instruments are designated as either a Federal Reference Method (FRM) or Federal Equivalent Methods (FEM). The complete list of approved instruments for NAAQS evaluating is provided on the EPA Ambient Monitoring Technology Information Center (AMTIC) web site

Real Time Data

EPA and its State and Tribal partners publish near real-time air quality data (typically hourly updates) as well air quality forecasts on the AirNow web site.

The AirNow site also contains, links to Visibility Cameras, which are yet another way to evaluate air pollution.

Examples of clear and hazy days from Boston HazeCam:


Historical Data

Historical air quality test results are freely available through EPA AirData

EPA & Citizen Science Next Generation of Monitors

EPA has also been involved with Next Generation Air Measuring and is currently offering its Citizen Science Toolbox Resources online:

  • Air Sensor Guidebook;
  • Air Sensor Technology: State of the Science Presentation;
  • Mobile Sensors and Applications for Air Pollutants; and
  • Sensor Evaluation Report.

Other Resources for Air Quality Standards

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) and its National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also offer a wealth of guidance. In particular, the NIOSH Manual of Analytical Methods is a collection of procedures for sampling and analysis of contaminants including workplace air.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), based in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Their Toxicological Profiles, is particularly useful for when a pollutant can be identified by compound or element.


All wiki pages relating to air quality:

Title Updated Version Views
DIY Indoor Air Remediation Kit about 1 month ago by liz 52 9
Roomba Indoor Air Quality Monitoring about 2 months ago by warren 48 7
PM Tools about 2 months ago by warren 3 0
Air Quality 2 months ago by warren 22 8
PurpleAir 3 months ago by warren 13 3
Odor 3 months ago by imvec 30 3
Particle Sensing 6 months ago by warren 25 5
MACA 7 months ago by nanocastro 4 5
Optical Monitoring of Particulate Matter 9 months ago by warren 23 4
Air Sampling 10 months ago by warren 21 2
DustDuino about 1 year ago by warren 26 7
General Environmental Monitoring Study Strategies about 1 year ago by gretchengehrke 2 0
Formaldehyde about 1 year ago by gretchengehrke 5 1
Open Air over 1 year ago by liz 17 5
BioBroth Bubbler over 1 year ago by warren 3 0
Silica almost 2 years ago by mathew 17 1
Refinery Watching about 3 years ago by warren 18 5
Formaldehyde Test Kit about 3 years ago by mathew 23 9
Indoor Air Quality Monitoring & Mitigation over 3 years ago by liz 48 12
Roomba Air Quality Monitoring over 3 years ago by Shannon 2 1
Pollution-to-Solution about 4 years ago by epongrat 3 0
Hydrogen Sulfide from CAFOs in Iowa over 4 years ago by sophie 8 0
Air Quality Class over 4 years ago by liz 59 3
Summer CHAQ Class 1 Research Notes over 5 years ago by msmelody 1 1
Air Quality Class 07 over 5 years ago by liz 1 0
Air Quality Class 06 over 5 years ago by liz 1 0
Air Quality Class 7 over 5 years ago by liz 9 0
Cypress Hills Air Quality Initiative over 5 years ago by liz 1 1
Air Column Monitor almost 6 years ago by liz 10 1
vertical atmospheric profiles almost 6 years ago by liz 3 0
microbes almost 6 years ago by liz 14 1
indoor air quality mapping review almost 7 years ago by gonzoearth 2 0

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