Technology has rapidly evolved to fill the need for precise detection of airborne pathogens and particles. Homeowners and businesses alike want to know whether microbes, fungi and cancer-causing substances such as asbestos are suspended in living spaces, and at what concentration.
Putting this technology in the hands of people is the first step in encouraging grassroots solutions to global problems, contends Dr. Jay K. Varma, a Harvard-trained physician and epidemiologist whose work focuses on the prevention and control of diseases. “In public health, the most effective interventions are those that do not require individuals to change their behavior and in which healthy options are simply available to them by default, such as clean water,” he explains.
Fortunately, home and business air quality monitoring is becoming more widely available to consumers, adds Hamza Mbareche, an expert in bioaerosol science. Beyond that, the choice of the most appropriate monitoring technology can make the difference between a healthy environment and an atmosphere that is risky for people.
“The more that regular people and businesses can measure their own air quality, the more people like me are going to be needed to find solutions for improving it,” he says.
A postdoctoral researcher of bioaerosols, the microbiome, genomics and bioinformatics, Toronto-based Hamza Mbareche has been ranked 22nd in a list of more than 7,000 researchers for his proven expertise in air microbiology over the last five years.
Air quality monitoring is especially important in spaces for vulnerable people, like children and the elderly, and spaces for food preparation, he notes.
This point was illustrated in a Canadian study conducted last spring by the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment and the Canadian Child Care Federation), in collaboration with University of Ottawa researchers.
Nearly half of about 2,000 professionals in child care programs across the country reported unhealthy conditions for children, according to the survey data. Also, over two-thirds of respondents expressed concern about risks to children’s health and well-being posed by air pollution (indoor 64 percent; outdoor 69 percent), toxic chemicals in products (69 percent), a lack of access to nature (68 percent), and climate change (68 percent).
“We’re entering a new world of concern about air quality,” Mbareche says. “While these numbers might be alarming to some, I think it’s important to remember that we have the knowledge and tools to address these problems and create a healthier, safer world for everyone.”
According to analysis from ReportLinker.com, the global market for Indoor Air Quality Monitors was estimated at USD $3.7 Billion in the year 2020. It’s now projected to reach a size of $6.4 billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 8.2 percent.
In the consumer market, customers are now able to choose from a wide array of air quality monitoring and purification systems, including reference-grade FRM/FEM monitors, mobile air quality sensors, and stationary low-cost sensors. These options measure air quality in different ways, and often provide different data outputs.
Air quality monitoring using FRM and FEM equipment developed largely as a result of U.S. government mandates. A key reason both the U.S. and Canadian governments got involved in the maturation and application of these technologies is that they needed ways to accurately measure air quality in cases where atmospheric data are used to develop policy and measure compliance with regulatory standards.
Advanced FRM and FEM monitoring equipment is extremely precise – and expensive. A single monitor may cost as much as $40,000 USD. On top of that, the equipment requires lots of expert care from highly trained technicians. In addition, because the monitors need specific types of environments and infrastructure, they are harder to deploy and often impractical when it comes to measuring air quality in small spaces.
That’s where mobile air quality monitoring comes in. Mobile monitors are light enough to be mounted on cars, and much less expensive. This sometimes comes at the expense of accuracy. Stationary low-cost sensors that are not considered mobile are equally attractive options, but also tend to fall short of the higher standards of FRM/FEM technology.