Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)s about the air quality platform.

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The Airquality.lk platform monitors and provides real time air quality data in Sri Lanka. The platform was created by Verité Research with the support of a network of partners including the National Building Research Organization (NBRO), Entgra, Mitsubishi Corporation and the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI).

To make information on air quality in Sri Lanka, available to the public and share data that helps people understand the importance of air quality. This portal aims to ensure the air quality data is readily available to the public, local researchers and other interested parties.

The air quality sensors on the platform monitor fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in the ambient air that is harmful to human health even during short term exposure. PM2.5 are 2.5 micrometres or smaller in diameter (an average human hair is about 70 micrometres – about 30 times larger) and is the most widely measured air pollutant worldwide. The PM2.5 travel through the respiratory track and end up in alveoli (tiny sacs in the lungs) and enters the blood stream.

AQI is a health index. It is a standard implemented by the World Health Organization (WHO) that uses a colour-scale to classify the concentration of pollutants breathed into the human body for a specific pollutant across a fixed time period. In this case, the AQI measures the PM2.5 levels in the atmosphere and communicates whether the air quality is healthy or unhealthy. You can read more about AQI in our following insights. https://airquality.lk/understanding-the-air-quality-index-aqi/

AQI values are corresponding values of the PM2.5 concentration ranging from 0 to 500. These PM2.5 concentration ranges are attributed to specific color codes in the index for easy understanding. Concentration data is translated into color coded AQI with specific air quality categories to define the level of air pollution. You can find more in one of our following insights. AQ concentration and the corresponding AQI range is listed comprehensively. https://airquality.lk/understanding-the-air- quality-index-aqi/

The ‘Explore Map’ showcases the geographical location of air quality sensors that provide real- time hourly measurement of AQI based on PM2.5 concentrations.

This platform uses low-cost sensors as a cost-effective means of monitoring air pollution. The low-cost sensors on the platform are presently NBRO sensors. They have been calibrated against reference grade sensors to improve the accuracy and precision of data monitoring.

Yes, the Airquality.LK platform presently monitors PM 2.5 pollution because the higher penetrating exposure to fine particles (PM<2.5 µm) is considered to have a greater impact on human health. We believe this will help people take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others from the risks of air pollution.

You can contribute in different ways; by helping to expand the network of sensors by donating funds for the purchase of air quality sensors which the AQ.LK team can assist you with or by on- boarding your own air quality sensors- this would be useful for researchers as AQ.LK provides the data collection and sharing infrastructure. You can also be a part of the cleaner air movement by creating awareness on the importance of protecting the air we breathe.

Outdoor air pollution is common in Sri Lanka. You can subscribe to the email alerts service on the platform to be notified of air quality concentration in an area covered by the air quality sensor. For more information, view our articles and blogs to learn how to minimize the exposure and effects of poor air quality. Using the air quality information daily will help keep you safe from exposure to poor air quality by taking necessary precautionary measures such as wearing masks.

Children are sensitive groups due to their high susceptibility. The breathing rate of children is twice as that of adults, hence they take more air into the respiratory track. Air pollution weakens their immune system and increases the vulnerability to a range of diseases. Such children are more susceptible to relatively diminished neurodevelopment and cognitive ability, higher risk of developing asthma, Acute Lower Respiratory Infection (ALRI), childhood cancer and chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and otitis media, later in life.

Fetus is exposed to particulate matter through the mother. Mother and fetus are separated by the placenta during pregnancy. The particulate matter in the mother’s blood stream translocates through the placenta and enters the fetus blood stream where it affects the development of fetus’s immune system. Further, exposure to high levels of air pollution also increases the risk of stillbirth and infant mortality, increased risk of low birth weight, underdeveloped lungs and increased probability of a child showing autism.

Understanding air quality – basic pointers

1. Air quality is driven mainly by two factors in Sri Lanka a. The level of emissions from various source points. For example, the more fossil fuels are burned for transport or energy, the more emissions in the air. To improve air quality, we need to target source points and present alternative policy solutions, which are already available but not effectively implemented.

b. The shift in the monsoon. The public is provided a reprieve from otherwise high levels of air pollution thanks to monsoon conditions. This is clearly demonstrated in Exhibit 2, where a significant improvement in Colombo’s air quality is seen between April/May and September/October each year. As such, the monsoon does help mask the air pollution problem. 

2. What does the public need to know when interpreting air quality data

a. The Air Quality Index (AQI) measured in µg/m³ translates into a (colour-coded) health index, signifying the potential adverse impact to an individual’s health (see Exhibit 1).

b. The safeguard measures are relatively simple behavioural changes such as avoiding outdoor activity, closing the windows, and wearing an approved mask e.g.N95. Additional measures can be taken in situations where air quality is in the unhealthy category or worse for prolonged periods. For example, in the United States, measures such as setting aside a room in the home with an air purifier is recommended during the bushfire season, so that occupants may retreat into the safe space until air quality improves.

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Disclaimer: Readings of some sensors are not updated due to prevailing situation (power outages and economic constraints) in Sri Lanka.