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How to interpret air pollution?

One of the citizen’s sustainocratic initiatives that we initiated in Eindhoven (Netherlands) is the co-creation of the healthiest city of the world using air quality as guiding principle. We invited the local government, business enterprises and scientific researchers to take responsibility with us. That is how the formal Local AiREAS Eindhoven was born in 2011. Air pollution is one of the most deadly problems that we face in the world. Since mid October this year the World Health Organization recognised it to be level 1 cancer producing.

Now what? How do we deal with it as a citizen’s cooperative with institutional memberships? We seem to know that pollution comes from high level concentrations of burning stuf (fuel, wood, waste, etc) but our entire lifestyle depends on that. Mobility, heating, industry, logistics….if we want a healthy city we would need to change everything, from design to culture.

Where do we start? No one wants cancer and no one wants to give up a wealthy lifestyle. The consequences however do not just show in economics due to illness, lack of productivity or costs of health care. They also show in quality of life, global problems and huge amount of people with chronic diseases. This mismatch suggests a transformation process. But how do we choose our priorities?

The first project of AiREAS was to create a backbone infrastructure of measurement equipment to visualize our air pollution in the finest detail. One of the most modern requirements is to analyse the ultra fine dust that we create through combustion of fuels or wood and friction. These particles are smaller than a virus and settle in our arteries, creating infections that can give rise to all kinds of health problems, even cancer. Larger particles may be captured by our natural defences, such as nose moisture and small hairs. But the smaller ones go straight through.

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Measuring such minute air particles in the open air in a city is very difficult. Expensive technology so far only reached to a certain point of detail. At AiREAS we managed to cocreate much less expensive equipment that measures a vast amount of variables, and in real time. In Holland we say that “measurement is knowledge”. But what do we know when we measure?

Just imagine this little red dot:


This represents a particle in the free, open air in your city. Now we want to know what it is and how it affects our wellbeing? One way to do this is to filter the air through a membrane. We can then analyse the membrane and whatever it has captured. This did not work for us because we wanted to measure in real time, all the time, without having to go to the measurement station (normally hung up on a light post or so) to change filters or tubes. Another technique is with to measure with light or laser. Air in an air chamber of the measurement station is analysed by the way light is distorted by air particles.

Now we know the quantity of particles per cubic “something” in space somewhere in the city in close to real time. We also know the size. ¬†We can distinguish particulate matter (PM) from below 1 micron to the traditional 2.5 and 10 PM.

This is great and already a huge advantage over other measurement techniques in the world. Scientists helped define the location of the measurement equipment so that information could be interpreted with some degree of reality. But what reality? We are interested in human health. So where can we measure, link with the respiratory reality and health consequences? Why would the measurement at 2.5 meters above a sidewalk under a light post be representative for what happens with people who live in the area? Scientific research talks about modulation. This is a mathematical technique to extrapolate our knowledge at the point of measurement and its validity for interpretation at a certain distance.

Modulation has to do with smart guessing based on behaviour models that take all kinds of variables into account. Every situation is different. Think of the way the wind affects the particles, or rain, gravity, temperature, turbulence around buildings, etc. Should we measure at the light post close to where pollution originates or at home of a local resident where people spend most of the time? Is the health hazard related to what we ingale while on the move or when we are at home? Or is it the accumulation of both. How then does pollution spread? Are our modulation models correct for interpretation? Do we measure at the right places for correct judgement.

These are relevant questions because based on the answers we influence policies on where roads should be changed, how traffic is routed, what needs to be changed in our lifestyle by law or suggestion, etc. These are big responsibilities.

The second backbone we put in place in the city is a health measurement infrastructure with real doctors measuring heart, lung, arteries. By choosing the spots right we could get to see if adjustments in the city or our behaviour would prove to be successful, not just by showing an improvement in air quality but also in related health and quality of life.

Linking public health and air pollution in true real life research with the involvement of the entire city population is quite unique. It is a living lab that teaches us as much as the rest of the world, especially because we do it with all participants at the table, not just fragmented research topics. That is also why we can react instantly on impulses that occur and surprise us. We become aware and conscious as we move.

Recently for instance we had a huge storm, up to hurricane power. This sucked all the polluted air right out of the city. The measurements however did not show uniformity. Strange things happened. The particles did not behave the same way and certainly not the way we would have expected.

Going back to our red dot we realize that we know only the size and quantity of particles. We do not know their weight, mass or properties. So in reality we know very little. These properties behave differently in different circumstances where gravity, climate, weather, electromagnetism, turbulence, etc influence them all the time. How can we interpret air pollution and attach values to it if we have so many doubts? How can we communicate pollution to the public if we don’t even know what kind of pollution we are talking about? How can we take measures in the city if we don’t know how the particles behave before they even get to our lungs and arteries?

We concluded that we need to initiate a new scientific project just to focus on “interpretation” of data.

We decided two things:
1. With two years of citizen’s cooperative work at AiREAS we have accumulated much awareness and experiences to share with others. We will get people to visit us for regular seminars that will allow them to do the same in their home town.

2. We will establish a research team to see how we go about interpretation and communication. We will finance the research through the income from education. Like this we keep ahead of the crowd so to say but let the others in on all our experience building through the trainings.

If of interest please mail. You can also forward this initiative and progress to people in your network who deal with this complex issue.

Air pollution produces cancer and death

The World Health Organization issued a press release on October 17th 2013 confirming the global hazard of air pollution causing cancer and death.

In 2011 we started AiREAS in Eindhoven (Netherlands) to take local responsibility for air quality and human health. It is not a new institution. It is a cooperative effort of the four pillars that constitute a modern society: local people (behaviour), government (territory), business (innovation) and science (knowledge and education).

The way AiREAS works

The way AiREAS works

The problem we face is that air pollution is a consequence of our way of structuring society (the system) around consumption. To address this issue we can try to modify the parts that pollute. This has been done for many years already through government regulations and bureaucracy. It produced certain important levels of results. The application of norms was related to the unhealthiness of environmental pollution. These norms did not account for the mortality of cancer produced by the outdoor pollution. This now changes.

The situation compares with the awareness of energy consumption in 1970’s in relation to oil shortages. People started to take action by using energy saving light bulbs and other measures. The increase though of energy consuming household appliances multiplied the usage of energy through lifestyle despite the awareness. Energy itself does not necessarily kill people, now we know that air pollution does. Air pollution has to do with lifestyle and what we burn.

Another example is the cancer producing asbestos. Severe measures are still needed to clean up the environment from this lethal substance.


Many law suits were fought in court for negligence or negation at expense of human health. The current acknowledgment of the World Health Organization should start worrying powerful organisations that are on the pollution end. We will enter now a transformation phase of society that will solve a lot of related problems.

What we find is that the system that produced wellness and economies of growth also produces the highest outdoor pollution. The relationship between booming economies and pollution is a challenge of its own. We have seen system’s managers, political and economic leaders choose in favor of the system’s lobby and against human sustainable progress.

Stress between the system and human natural stability should be positive, not killing

Stress between the system and human evolutionary progress should be positive, not killing

AiREAS is unique in the sense that it positions the formal multidisciplinary cooperation at the natural human being side, inviting leading people from the dominant system to take responsibility together for the local environment and health. And they accept (in Eindhoven where we started).

Within the ruling system the different partners act as competitors or through financially interdependent relationships (sales, subsidies, taxes, wages, etc) on which power and authority is claimed. Within AiREAS this inequality disappears. They all take responsibility together by submitting their talents and authority around a common purpose introducing a new lobby: the health city or region from an air quality and human health point of view.

It works surprisingly well when the multidisciplinary group is complete. The institutional systems become positive instruments in hands of responsible human beings that have a leadership position in each system. They join forces at human, not system’s level, out of self interest and with a creative purpose: sustainable human progress through health and safety.

Cancer has no hierarchically positioning, nor does responsibility. It both affects us all. The effects of combined progressive authority (as opposed to usage of power and blockage of institutional selfishness) can be decisive when addressing sustainable life issues. Bringing together the entire diversity at a regional level does make that difference. It can now even be demanded. Health was maybe abstract but cancer is not anymore.

* Those who individually pollute need to transform voluntarily or they will face the consequences by those who claim responsibility, No finger pointing at others will help anymore. If in need of help it should be asked, not waited for.

* Those who can contribute to the transformation  through talent and authority should work together through ventures like AiREAS. Not participating in the solution of one of the most serious issues of modern times is also liable to disputes while participating has obvious benefits.

AiREAS can be applied anywhere in the world on a local for local for global basis.

Curing is a cost and negligence, solving and preventing is an investment in ethics and responsibility.

By doing so we transform the world by affecting the environment, human interests and economies positively.

If in need of help just contact me: jp@stadvanmorgen.com

In Eindhoven:

Airboxes were designed and position by technology, science, region and residents together.

Airboxes were designed and position by technology, science, region and residents together.

  • 4 universities (heart, lung, botanic, modulation, climate, space, behavior, perception, etc) combine the data with practical health information obtained from the field and provide knowledge to the team.
  • Stip-Step measures are taken in co-creation in infrastructure, traffic flow, public communication and interaction, civilian initiatives and value driven entrepreneurship.
  • a transformation economy is established to finance progress through a circular, result driven structure independent of local tax money feeding local progress.
  • World wide we present our innovations through our multinational partners and by establishing Local AiREAS wherever sufficient multidisciplinary commitment is united.

Interest has been shown in other regions. Transformation steps are being taken by citizens in Breda (Netherlands), Rotterdam (Netherlands), Rio de Janeiro (Brasil) and Poland while via multinational partners initiatives are rolled out commercially as well.

Interested in AiREAS?
Contact me: jp@stadvanmorgen.com

Or one of the many partners.