Better measurements lead to smarter policies

Tuesday July 7, 2015 10:00

Particulate matter is causing a great deal of commotion among citizens, governmental bodies and environmental organisations. Measurements of air quality are interpreted and discussed in the press. But what do those figures actually mean? ECN is investigating the presence of particulate matter in Eindhoven by performing accurate measurements at the local level. With real-time data, we can make the invisible visible.

New European standards for air quality will take effect in 2015. The standards are not expected to be stricter and the Netherlands will likely remain within the limits. "Nevertheless, we cannot be completely at ease", claims ECN researcher Ernie Weijers. "Epidemiologists tell us that concentrations that fall within the limits could also make us sick." Ernie would like to see more local measurements performed in different places. A test conducted with relatively inexpensive ECN sensors in Eindhoven demonstrates that it works.

Local measurement units in Eindhoven
In order to identify the health risks in Eindhoven, the municipal government commissioned ECN to measure the air quality locally. Together with the local city government, the province of North-Brabant, Imtech ICT and the universities of Utrecht and Twente, ECN helps to co-create a healthy city in the multidisciplinary cooperation ‘AiREAS’.

As of October 2013, 35 ECN special air measurement units have been hanging throughout the city. The amount of particulate matter is accurately measured with the so-called Airboxes. ECN also measures ultra-fine particulates at five locations. And it works: the size of the concentration of polluted particulates is visible for each district. The effect of traffic flows in a district also becomes clear. Ernie: "We have also been measuring nitrous oxide and ozone since 2014. With these measurements, we are able to provide a more complete picture of the air quality." 

Smarter policy
The real-time measurement data from Eindhoven are available online for everyone to see. Ernie: "The participation of the citizens themselves makes this pilot so special. They contribute ideas, request more measurement points in their district from their municipality and can view the measurement results online at" Data from the University of Utrecht and the measurement data of ECN are now used to conduct health research. The municipality can use these results to make citizens aware of the effects of their behaviour. Ernie: "We can use local data to have the right dialogue with citizens; this dialogue would be based on facts and not on emotion or perception. This is the basis for a smarter policy.”

Measurements in your area?
The municipalities of Assen and Breda are following the example of Eindhoven by initiating air measurements in the area. Would you like to have more data on the local situation in your area in order to improve the air quality or would you like to know more about ECN's research into this? If so, please contact Ernie Weijers of ECN. He will be happy to tell you more. 

Category: Juni, Corporate, Environment