Sydney mum tracks air pollution with Dyson’s innovative backpack

Dyson recently announced the creation of its air quality backpack, which monitors the source of air pollution in real time. For the first time in the southern hemisphere (and the second time in the world), the backpack was placed with Sydney mother and influencer Leah Williams, to understand the pollutants she was exposing her family to. Leah is particularly mindful about air pollution after the Australian bushfires, something which even we experienced the effects of in New Zealand.

Air pollution is a hot topic in New Zealand, given that over 70,000 people in New Zealand live with a respiratory condition (one in six people, of which 26,000 are children), and respiratory illness is the third leading cause of death in New Zealand. Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ Chief Executive Letitia Harding says “it is because of these shocking statistics that it’s important we understand more about air pollution, and what can trigger allergies, asthma exacerbations and negatively impact on our breathing overall.”

Turning to the backpack, it was initially developed by Dyson for the Breathe London Study with Kings College London and the Greater London Authority. The study sought to understand exposure to two pollutants, fine particulate matter, and nitrogen dioxide on the school run. As a result, 31% of the children said they would change the way they commute to and from school to reduce their exposure to air pollution.

Leah’s data, collected while wearing the backpack, showed an increase in pollution levels during routine activities such as cooking, cleaning, and travelling by car. Pollution events throughout the day caused pollution levels to spoke into concentrations, registering as ‘high’ on Dyson’s purifier pollution scale. An evening BBQ in Leah’s garden showed high levels of pollutants, likely caused by the combustion process during cooking which can emit fine particulate matter. Nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant often associated with vehicle emissions, was also detected when Leah took a trip to the beach in the car with her family while using the backpack. Meanwhile, volatile organic compounds were detected when Leah was undertaking regular activities in the house, including using cosmetic products, doing laundry, and spraying pesticides outside.

As a result of the experiment, Leah now realises the importance of adjusting some daily behaviours, including using a purifier or ventilating when cooking, dusting and cleaning. “It’s so important we all understand the air pollutants that we are breathing in every day in order to make changes”, she says.

Commenting on the backpack, leading air quality and health expert Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis says “technology advancements in portable air quality monitoring devices is increasing and using these is critical for translating the research findings into better everyday practice to reduce air pollution, both to understand our personal exposure and what we generate as individuals. Education around the different types and source of air pollutants will help people adjust their behaviour – by taking actions such as avoiding busy highways, commuting to work differently, increasing ventilation when cooking, using more environmentally friendly cleaning products or using a purifier with a HEPA filter inside the home.”

Dyson’s innovative backpack is part of its commitment to expanding the public’s understanding of air pollution and empowering them to make positive change. It has donated over $600,000 worth of purifiers and vacuums to bushfire-impacted Australian communities, as well as 400 Dyson Pure Cool purifying fans to 88 schools across the Australian Capital Territory in areas affected by bushfire smoke pollution.

Dyson is also using its air quality backpack to understand personal air quality exposure on a global scale, most recently to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on air quality globally. Participants in cities across the world have been wearing the backpack during essential travel in this period and the eagerly anticipated data findings will be released in October.

Click here for more information on the air quality backpack.

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