Will smart design put the first step to better air quality—awareness of an invisible problem—in our own hands (or on our chests)? We hope so.
We all know that Portland is a marvelously green city. So green is the haze around here, in fact, that most residents are oblivious to the offensive air quality caused by industrial waste. Two years ago, USA Today published an in-depth article called The Smokestack Effect that looked at the impact of industrial pollution on children, particularly those who attend schools near factories that emit toxic chemicals. The results were shocking: higher rates of cancer, mental problems and respiratory disease seemed to tie directly to a school’s proximity to polluters. And even more shocking was the fact that Northwest Portland is in the lowest 2 percentile of air quality in the nation. (A form on the website allows you to check how your neighborhood ranks.)
Our office is in the Pearl District of Northwest Portland, around a mile from Portland’s worst culprits for air pollution. We have kids who attend school in the neighborhood. So the question is, what can we do?
Neighbors for Clean Air in Portland has been championing this cause since the USA Today article was published, gathering signatures, mapping odor complaints on their website, and working with government officials and local businesses to regulate and reduce emissions. Follow them on Facebook for ways you can get involved.
This may be a little while out, but Intel Labs Berkeley seems to be close to releasing an air quality monitor for mobile phones as part of their Common Sense project that will allow people to do more than simply report odd-smelling odors near factories. It will actually call out toxins and use GPS to map where they are found. The effect of a piece of technology like this would be enormous in helping locate sources of pollution and forcing factories to change their ways.
Finally, a little less-specific air quality sensor comes in the form of “Warning Sign” t-shirts created by two NYU graduates. The shirts, designed with either a heart or set of lungs on the front, detect high carbon monoxide levels and display blue veins in the organs when worn in areas of high pollution.