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Southern California Air-Quality App Offers Hyperlocal Readings

An updated air-quality monitoring app covering large swaths of Southern California is combining data streams from both government and crowd-sourced sensors to give readings at the neighborhood level.

A smoggy view of Interstate 5 near Riverside Drive, Griffith Park and the Los Angeles River in Southern California.
A smoggy view of Interstate 5 near Riverside Drive, Griffith Park and the Los Angeles River in Southern California.
Those who rely on air-quality readings in Southern California are now seeing more detailed and accurate information for their neighborhoods through a newly improved app.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), has released an upgraded app for mobile devices which provides local air-quality index (AQI) levels, down to the neighborhood level. The data, which measures particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide pollution, comes from government monitoring stations, as well as low-cost, crowd-sourced sensors.

The readings now “are more accurate than other methods commonly used to determine AQI levels,” said Bradley Whitaker, senior public information specialist for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

“More accurate and higher resolution AQI data means the information we present is better tailored to where people live, work and play,” said Wayne Nastri, South Coast AQMD’s executive officer, in a statement. “These cutting-edge improvements to our app better help residents minimize their exposure to poor air quality at the neighborhood level.” 

The undertaking is similar to efforts in other parts of the state. In the Bay Area, the Air Quality Managment District partnered with the private sector to monitor pollution with vehicle-mounted sensors.

Users can also now personalize and label their air quality readings for different locations, labeling areas as home, work or other distinctions. The app can be personalized and send users notifications when pollution levels reach a certain threshold.  

“Residents can now check real-time AQI for any 5x5 kilometer area in South Coast AQMD’s jurisdiction to understand their air quality,” said Whitaker. The South Coast AQMD covers major portions of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, including the Coachella Valley. 

The crowd-sourced sensor data comes from sensors made public, known among AQMD officials as the PurpleAir Network

“Although South Coast AQMD and the public has always had access to the PurpleAir network, the recent proliferation of low-cost sensors and new techniques to calibrate this data has allowed South Coast AQMD to blend PurpleAir data with its regulatory monitoring stations and an air quality model run by the NOAA to create the hyper-local AQI map seen today,” explained Whitaker, in an email. 

Air quality in southern California has long been a top concern among environmental and public health officials. The region is home to legendary air pollution caused by cars, as well as natural causes like dust storms and wildfires. Easy-to-use and understand air-quality apps have given ordinary residents, as well as policymakers, a window into a concern affecting everyone. 

“Accuracy is vital for the public to understand the impacts of air pollution and what to do when air quality is poor such as during a wildfire, dust storm, ozone episode or other air quality event,” said Whitaker. 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.