Citizen Research

This is a placeholder for independent research I'm undertaking. The U.A.E has a high standard of living but I'm yet to be convinced I'm immune from the invisible forces of breathing 'bad air'. I'm investigating a key area in the name of citizen science. If you want to help me, either through technical collaboration, funding or just plain advice, give me a shout through my Linkedin Profile.

Topic Idea : Snapshot of indoor air quality by sampling pollutants with low cost devices -

Sick building syndrome can be a certain condition caused when an indoor space isn't ventilated with the proper amount of outdoor air as prescribed by ASHRAE (and other standards). Quantifying air quality as a result of buildup of gases and chemicals is something I'm very interested in. I also want to build expertise in this area so that more people can start doing the same things I'm doing.


News articles like the one below from Gulf News (dated June 14, 2015) confirms my suspicion that I'm headed in the right direction with my thoughts.

In this particular article, an independent testing by local instrumentation supplier EIS confirmed that the CO2 level inside a one bedroom apartment in Dubai spiked at an absolute value of more than 2500 ppm and the average VOC level measured came out to an average 349 ppm.  This was apparently several times the established Dubai municipality standards.

However, what I'd like to also highlight is the fact that this average couple didn't have the resources with them to do a measurement study themselves. It took money and time to call in an independant pollution expert to probe the apartment, which is non-ideal. Such a consultation should be a last resort, to confirm initial suspicions in a way.

Infact, I'm thinking of a high-funda scenario where a low cost device and a real time readout would be available to every household in Dubai so that families could protect themselves, their children and even their pets. Ideally, this would be a readout on the wall of the living room, just like a thermostat. Why are we in the 21st century and still do not have a critical element inside our homes to make decisions about the air we breathe?

Several interesting sub-questions come out of this for studying the problem broadly. Therefore, I divide this into 12 different phases, which are :

1. What are the existing Dubai Municipality Standards and how do they compare to other international standards, such as EPA and WHO limits?
2.  What's the basis for these established limits as they relate to human health effects?
3.  What can existing literature say about quantifying the risk to someone, in this example this couple, who were breathing bad indoor air in their apartment? As a start, we could begin the question with the measured values in the same article, which were :

CO2 levels: More than 2,500ppm (Dubai Municipality standards: 800ppm).
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs released by chemical cleaning agents): 2,084ppm
Average rate: 349ppm.

4. If the levels cited in this article (above) are statistically significant in terms of ill-effects to human health, under what scenarios are they caused? How does sleeping with the windows closed, or cooking with different kinds of oil, or using cleaning solvents at varying rates promote the increase of these indoor pollutants?
5. Particular interest to me is also from air conditioning. We know that a significant, I mean, a "significant" population in Dubai resides in old and crammed apartments with box window Air Conditioners. How do air conditioning filter maintenance play into the buildup of pollutants? And are there significant differences compared to newer buildings, with central air conditioning systems?
6.  What are the criteria pollutants to measure? What are the characteristics of these species under the normal temperature cycles seen inside a living space?
7.  What is the current knowledge about the instrumentation recommendations to detect these criteria pollutants? This establishes the performance needs for any sensor.
8.  Scan the state of the art in low cost sensors to understand their performance characteristics. How do they work? What principle of sensing do they use? What level of uncertainty do they have? Everything.
9.  Investigate the feasibility of a network of low cost sensors to provide snapshots of indoor air quality with time. Can this be conveyed wirelessly and plotted on a secondary terminal? What would be some of the most interesting ways to display this data for the average Joe?
10. Make an inventory of required parts-lists and finances required. If I have the money, I buy the parts and build the device.
11. Once built, I'll implement the device in several homes in Dubai as well as mobile indoor spaces such as my own car, or public transportation. This will be an interesting study of how different scenarios lead to different pollutant personal exposures. A key study would be into the noise and sources of errors in the reading to understand whether the device is telling me something reasonable from which I can infere intelligent information.
12.  Publish findings here. If time allows, I'll put together a nice research paper and submit it to several reviewers, particularly air quality experts within the U.A.E. This is a sure-fire way to receive intelligent critique on sources of error and misjudgments and perhaps some new ideas to go out and try to do.

So here begins this little adventure into the 12 phases of this project.

Watch this space. I'll be writing as time allots.

No comments: