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DES MOINES—As personal air sensors become more popular it’s important to understand their usefulness and their limitations. Air sensors are lower-cost, portable devices that measure air quality.
While the sensors are helpful in showing local air quality, their results don’t always align with the strictly regulated official air quality monitors used by Iowa DNR, and Linn and Polk counties.
As part of a nationwide effort involving 16 states, in 2020 DNR and other Iowa air agencies collected data used to improve results from popular personal air quality sensors.
Working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Iowa DNR placed low-cost air quality sensors near existing, and highly accurate, regulatory-grade monitors.
“This study makes an important contribution to understanding results coming from personal air quality sensors,” said Brian Hutchins, DNR air quality supervisor. “By comparing regulatory data with PurpleAir sensors, EPA came up with a method to make sensor results more reliable.”
With these improvements, EPA added thousands of low-cost sensors to AirNow’s national fire and smoke maps—to help track western wildfires. The maps now include concentrations of small particulate matter (PM2.5) collected from regulatory monitors, satellite data and low-cost sensors.
Short and long-term exposure to small particulate matter (think smoke or tiny dust particles) poses significant health risks, including asthma and heart attacks, strokes and early death.
“We don’t have regulatory monitors everywhere. Personal sensors can provide a better understanding of local trends in air pollution, which can also help protect human health,” Hutchins added.
While air quality in Iowa is usually good, check the Air Quality Index when planning outdoor activities. If the AQI is green, air quality is good. A yellow color indicates acceptable air quality, but there may be a risk for people who are sensitive to air pollution. Risks may be higher for people with heart or lung disease, and for children, athletes and older adults.
May 2 – 6 is national Clean Air Week. Check EPA’s website to learn more about personal sensors and the EPA study. Iowa DNR can help you learn more about air monitoring in Iowa and ways you can improve air quality.