What is Shair? Helping cities clean the air.

by | Feb 25, 2020 | Science & Engineering

Now is the time to take action to reduce air pollution in cities because…

  • On October 11, 2019, 35 mayors pledged to deliver clean air for the more than 140 million people that live in their cities. By signing the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration, the mayors recognize that breathing clean air is a human right and commit to work together to form an unparalleled global coalition for clean air.
  • Air quality sensor networks are being deployed more than ever before to better understand and tackle this problem, but the volume and type of data produced creates barriers for fast and actionable interpretation. One of the biggest barriers to interpretation is understanding what happens in between measurement locations and why.
  • Ramboll Shair is solving this problem with novel modeling techniques, and does it in near real-time despite the vast quantities of data that these sensor networks produce.
  • Shair provides a clear, full picture of air quality in a neighborhood, not just the discrete locations produced by sensor networks. We go above and beyond this, as well, providing intelligence about why air quality is like it is and what sources are responsible so our cities and agencies can clear the air, faster.
  • Shair just launched an early beta version of the public application for Richmond to collect feedback from the community on the user experience.
View of Shair in Richmond, CA

Beta version of Shair Public Application for Richmond, CA

As our global population continues to grow and our cities are becoming denser and more congested, air quality is negatively impacting more and more people. With the prevalence of wildfires causing major smoke impacts on large metropolitan areas, it feels like we are being impacted more than ever before. There has been a notable increase in poor air quality days in the US and consequent escalation of local healthcare costs to government, business, and individuals.

Our cities and air quality management agencies have a suite of tools in their toolbox for managing and regulating air quality but simply put, they can be lumped in three pillars (referred to here as the AQ toolbox):

(1) Emissions Inventories,

(2) Air Quality Modeling, and

(3) Air Quality Monitoring.

Inventories are the ledger of our best estimate of how much pollution is emitted from the sources of pollution in a city, modeling takes those emissions and calculates how they disperse in space and impact people (based on weather, chemistry, buildings, and other factors), and monitoring is our “ground truth” — measuring what is actually happening and a way to measure progress being made over time.

Historically, cities and air regulators have focused on measuring regional air pollution levels for national regulatory purposes (such as National Ambient Air Quality Standards in the US or EU Air Quality Directives). In other words, ambient air quality data have traditionally come from monitors meeting particular siting requirements (e.g., not within a certain distance of a known pollution source), instrument requirements (e.g., monitors must be federally approved), and data quality requirements (e.g., follow calibration and audit procedures, dataset completeness, etc.). While these traditional monitoring efforts have been successful in improving overall air quality on a regional scale over the past 40+ years, not all communities within these regions have experienced these benefits equally, and some communities are still disproportionately burdened by air quality issues.

But now there is a shift. Advances in technology combined with increased legislative actions (such as Assembly Bill 617 in California) are disrupting the way the AQ toolbox has traditionally been used. This momentum is shifting the focus of air quality monitoring from the regional to the community-scale to enhance our understanding of localized air pollution impacts and to improve air quality in disproportionately burdened communities.

The path to improving air quality doesn’t end with data collection, it must also include the understanding of what causes it so you know where and how to make the necessary reductions. For this, we need more than monitoring, and this is why Shair exists.

Pitching our idea during Ramboll’s Innovation Accelerator

I founded Shair in Ramboll’s Innovation Accelerator Program with a vision to better understand air quality so together we solve its biggest challenges. My experience with asthma as a child gave me a small taste of what millions of children and adults are burdened with every single day. It’s scary, and it’s devastating. We all deserve to breathe clean air — equally. We want to help cities tackle air pollution at a local level, in the areas most impacted, by bringing a new level of understanding and intelligence by closing the loop between the three pillars of our AQ toolbox.

By bringing together our inventories, models, and monitors, we can better explain why air quality is like it is, what sources are the culprits, and the impact of doing something about it. We also want to give governments the opportunity to provide the best data to the public, so their constituents can keep air quality in mind in everyday decision-making to reduce exposures.

We’re excited to announce that the first application of Shair launched in Richmond, California. We released a first look into Shair’s real-time maps so we can design the application in partnership with members of the community. It is important that we design and build Shair in a way that is useful and accessible to both cities and their citizens. We will be rolling out more features and functionality (such as source attribution) over the coming months as we gather feedback from our users.

Groundwork Richmond Air Rangers getting a sensor ready for installation

Together with our partners Groundwork Richmond and the City of Richmond and with support from the California Air Resources Board Community Air Grant Program to install Clarity sensors and configure Shair for the City of Richmond, we are excited to release Shair as a resource, decision support tool, and advocacy tool for the Richmond community.

We look forward to sharing updates on our work in Richmond and our efforts to bring Shair to communities around the world so they can clean the air, faster.

– Julia Luongo, Founder & Director

For more information on how you as a city, agency, or community group can benefit from the Shair platform, please contact us at shair@ramboll.com.

Thanks to Mike Dvorak and Justin Bandoro.