Rain or shine, Somers Town neighbours in London are measuring air quality

It’s 10 am on Wednesday, 2nd of March, and a cold wind is bringing dark clouds. The menace of bad weather does not discourage Tina. She comes out with a ladder, a bag full of diffusion tubes to measure nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air, a notebook, a map of the neighbourhood of Somers Town and more things. Some other neighbours join her in the street for a picture.

Smile! Let’s start the work!

Thanks to the expert advice of Mapping for Change, these neighbours can go out to measure air quality in the locations of their choice, mainly in front of schools and busy road crossings. Also, they have financed the necessary tools and lab analysis though a crowdfunding campaign coordinated by Mapping for Change.

The first location is a lamppost in front of a school, by a road. Tina goes up the ladder and fixes a cable tie around the lamppost; then, she puts a holder, where the diffusion tube will be attached for 4 weeks. Now, they record the location, site characteristics, exact time, and identification number of the tube. The next step is fixing the tube to the holder, with one end openly exposed and facing downwards, so the air can flow inside.

Diffusion tube

Diffusion tube fixed to a lamppost.

It starts to rain heavily and some neighbours leave, seeking shelter. Only Tina, a friend and I remain, enduring the bad weather. While placing our fifth diffusion tube of the morning, rain turns into hail and we hear a thunderclap!

We run to the community centre nearby with our bags and materials loosely hanging from our hands. It is nice and warm inside, and we enjoy a cup of hot tea while chatting about the experience and why we care about air quality. There are still 7 more locations in the map of Somers Town waiting for us. At 11:30 the rain stops and another helping hand joins us. By then, I have to leave my new friends and I say good bye in the midst of their preparations for placing the next 7 diffusion tubes.

Community leader

Community leader fixing a diffusion tube to a lamppost.

After 4 weeks, Tina will go out again with her neighbours to take the diffusion tubes back and send them to the lab. The lab will provide the readings of NO2 for that period in each location. They will receive the data and will input it in the map of Mapping for Change for everyone to see.

NO2 is an air pollutant originating mainly from emissions of diesel vehicles in cities and can affect health. Will they discover that they are surpassing the European Union legal limits or the World Health Organisation recommended limits?

Written by Irene Eleta, with contributions from Louise Francis and Tina. This post is also published in the blog of Mapping for Change.

Irene Eleta works for the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona-CREAL, an allied centre of ISGlobal, and her visit to University College London was financed by MSCA grant no. 656439.