Wildland fires produce significant air pollution, posing health risks to first responders, residents in nearby areas, and downwind communities.
The existing air quality monitoring hardware is large, cumbersome, and expensive, thereby limiting the number of monitoring stations and the data that is available to help officials provide appropriate strategies to minimize smoke exposure. They can’t be easily moved to the latest areas that are being affected by wildfire smoke.
Last year the Environmental Protection Agency in association with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and other agencies issued a Wildland Fire Sensors Challenge to spur the development of a transportable device that could measure some of the byproducts of combustion produced by vegetation fires. They offered prizes for the first and second place entries of $35,000 and $25,000.
The goal was a field-ready prototype system that could be set up near a fire that was capable of measuring constituents of smoke, including particulates, carbon monoxide, ozone, and carbon dioxide over the wide range of levels expected during wildland fires. It was to be accurate, light-weight, easy to operate, and capable of wireless data transmission, so that first responders and nearby communities have access to timely information about local air quality conditions during wildland fire events.
The winners have been announced:
Jason Gu of SenSevere/Sensit, a co-developer of the first place winning system, said they have a number of units in the field now being tested under real world conditions. They also want to install them near existing air quality monitoring stations to ensure that the data from the new design is comparable to data from the old-school stationary equipment that has been used for decades. When they are satisfied with the results, manufacturing will be the next step.
The SenSevere/Sensit unit has a battery that can last for three weeks but will have a solar panel to keep it charged. The device can transmit the data via a cellular connection or a radio. All of the sensors are made by SenSevere/Sensit. Their smoke sensor uses a blower that pulls air through a filter which removes the larger particles, and then a light beam detects the remaining very small PM2.5 particles, the ones that can be ingested deep inside a person’s lungs.
The video below has more information.