Guest blog: Claire Turbutt EHP on Wearable Air Pollution Monitors

The project – Raising public awareness of air pollution is the key to getting political engagement with the issue (1). As we have seen in recent media reports the UK has an air pollution problem. The question was ‘how to make air pollution dosemeters available at a low enough cost that schools, cyclists and motorists could afford to purchase them for themselves’. Working with two companies (Elixel and Controlled Frenzy), a wearable dose meter and smart phone app was designed and piloted. Monitoring PM2.5 and PM10 wearers can see what level of particulates they are being exposed to and decide which route to take to school or work. The wearables link to a smartphone which allows geographical data to be connected to the reading. This project has received national recognition, being published in the practice section of EHN and was featured by the CIEH as a case study on Clean Air Day 2017.

The theory behind the project – We make an overwhelming number of choices every day. Our choices tend to be made unconsciously without logical evaluation of what is the best choice. We are more likely to choose what is easiest, what I did last time and what everyone else is doing regardless of what is best for us (2). Behavioural economics is the study of how we can interrupt this unconscious decision making process and influence people to make different choices.

Research has shown us that people often choose the easiest, cheapest and most popular behaviour and an appropriate nudge can be an effective method for influencing these choices. The specific behavioural insight used in this project is ‘instant feedback’. If we receive immediate feedback on what we are doing we may be prompted to make a different choice.  Today many people commute to work, taking the shortest or easiest possible route. In order to encourage people to choose the lowest pollution route instead we have created wearable low cost air pollution monitors to give them instant feedback on their exposure, so that they can make an immediate route change which will ultimately reduce their exposure to air pollution over the long term.

We have yet to see the long term impact of this project in Plymouth however, in the short term a small number of people will be able to make healthier choices. Over time more people will access the monitors and this supports our citywide ambitions of ‘making healthy choices the easy choices’.

Our public health team engaged with this project because it raises the public’s expectation of air pollution in the city and also increases their knowledge of the way air pollution within the city interacts with them. Ultimately we hope this will lead to a more engaged population demanding politicians provide the necessary solutions to protect their health.

References

  1. Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (2016) Every breath we take. The lifelong impact of air pollution. Report of a working party, February 2016, https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution
  2. Leonard, T. C. (2008). Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Constitutional Political Economy, 19(4), 356-360.

For further information, please visit https://www.elixel.co.uk/news/crowdsourcing-air-quality-data-plymouth/ and/or contact me via:

Claire Turbutt, Public Health Team, Windsor House, Plymouth, PL6 5RF

Claire.turbutt@plymouth.gov.uk

@plymouthcc

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