The most precise air quality data in the world is being developed in Helsinki with a next generation sensor network and data modelling - city residents involved in the development

The University of Helsinki’s Megasense programme has been developing a new way of measuring local air pollution with measuring devices carried by city residents in a project called Healthy Outdoor Premises for Everyone HOPE, led by the City of Helsinki. The project is backed by an experienced network of partners that brings together the expertise of the University of Helsinki, City of Helsinki, Finnish Meteorological Institute and Helsinki Region Environmental Services (HSY).

Although air quality in Europe has developed significantly over the last few decades, almost every European still suffers from air pollution, states a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) from 2020. Not to mention the global situation – approximately seven million people worldwide die of air pollution annually (WHO).

Finland is among the top countries in the world from the perspective of clean air (WHO), but up to 2,000 people still die annually from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases caused by air pollution. Air pollutant concentrations may also momentarily and locally rise above WHO’s guideline levels in Helsinki.

– Air quality is generally good in the Helsinki region, but exposure to air pollution still causes adverse health effects. The essential thing is to develop cooperation for improving air quality and increase city residents’ understanding of air quality to promote their own and other people’s health, says Deputy Mayor Anni Sinnemäki.

In Helsinki, local air pollutant concentrations are measured with the fixed network of measuring devices maintained by HSY as well as sensors distributed to city residents, which make it possible to cover several different everyday routes.

Supported by the EU, the HOPE project has involved almost 150 city residents as well as two schools and daycare centres in the pilot areas in Jätkäsaari, Vallila and Pakila in the air quality measurements. The last measuring campaign of the project with city residents was launched in Vallila and Jätkäsaari in April 2021 and it will continue through the summer.

An application developed by the University of Helsinki presents the personal air quality data in a form that is easier to understand. Learn about the sensors by watching a video.

– Diverse air quality measurements in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area serve as a testing platform for new observations. The mobile sensors carried by city residents to measure their personal exposure help researchers find “hotspots” where air quality is considerably poorer. By cooperating with the City and its residents, we will gain a more precise picture of air quality in Helsinki, says Professor Tuukka Petäjä from the University of Helsinki.

The Air Quality Index is a globally standardised indicator used in assessing the health effects of air pollution (WHO 2017). The development work carried out by the University of Helsinki has made it possible to incorporate new parameters that describe air quality better into the Air Quality Index.

– The new Air Quality Index describes air pollutants harmful to health in particular in more detail, such as black carbon concentrations or lung-deposited surface area concentrations of particles. Their emission sources are often very local, says Head of Group Hilkka Timonen from the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

The updated Air Quality Index (AQI2.0) is now being tested in the ongoing measuring campaigns in Vallila and Jätkäsaari. AQI2.0 is also scalable for other areas, which meets the international need to assess the health effects of air pollution.

– Finnish atmospheric research and measurement expertise are world-class. New technology and diverse scientific understanding allow us to resolve social challenges and build a sustainable future, says Academician Markku Kulmala from the University of Helsinki.

– Involving residents and encouraging them to consider their everyday choices that affect air quality in their neighbourhood, as well as emissions in a broader sense, is at the core of the project. The City’s preventive measures, together with residents’ sustainable choices, are the most effective way to influence local air quality, says the HOPE project’s project manager Jussi Kulonpalo from the City of Helsinki’s Economic Development division.

Area-specific options for everyday actions that improve local air quality have been compiled for the residents of the HOPE project’s pilot areas. In the My Air Quality experiment the City of Helsinki supports the choices of residents through participatory budgeting by enhancing street cleaning and dust binding and offering things such as a season fee for city bikes as well as guidance on burning wood more cleanly and choosing winter tyres for cars.

In the My Air Quality app developed by UseLess Company Oy, anyone can determine their own air quality footprint and read tips about making better choices for cleaner air.

Funded by the EU’s Urban Innovative Actions initiative, the HOPE project involves the City of Helsinki, University of Helsinki, Vaisala Oyj, Helsinki Region Environmental Services HSY, Finnish Meteorological Institute, UseLess Company Oy and Forum Virium Helsinki.