Revolutionizing the way air quality data is shared



A new low-cost air quality platform hopes to change the way we quantify the adverse health impacts of air pollution in low-income countries

By Elanor Waslander Waterloo Climate Institute

Shahan Salim , a PhD candidate the School of Public Health Science s’and a member of the Waterloo Climate Institute ’s COP 28 delegation , has designed, in partnership with UNICEF in Mongolia, a platform to use data from low-cost air quality sensors to monitor and predict adverse outcomes related to air pollution exposure in underserved communities. 

This low-cost innovation can significantly expand access to air quality data that has typically been generated by a limited number of higher-cost sensory stations that don’t have user-friendly dashboards. Salim ’s research has earned him an invitation to showcase work at the prestigious international exhibition, Prototypes for Humanity , in Dubai.

"Air pollution is tricky because until a few years ago, most of the information came through giant high-cost reference centres, which were static in one spot," Salim says. "As technology is getting cheaper, faster, quicker and more effective, we can gain that same data and make it accessible to low-income communities."

The new platform is designed to advance air quality monitoring in two parts. First, it will create a real-time dashboard of air quality indicators for communities to use to mitigate or adapt to the risks associated with air pollution exposure. The second part takes the air quality data and applies artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning to predict health outcomes based on exposure.

With expertise from Dr. Plinio Morita’s research team in Ubilab at the University of Waterloo, Salim works with engineers and public health officials to develop models to best predict health outcomes. In addition, the team is investigating how can be used to predict air quality in areas w no air quality sensor s. This secondary application will have the added benefit of providing critical information to communities that have never been able to acquire air quality data before.

The innovations that are showcased at the Prototypes for Humanity exhibition focus on global problems and seek to catalyze action for positive social and environmental impact. The exhibition will bring together innovators, key stakeholders and investors from across the globe to support the uptake and development of these prototypes.

More than 700 university representatives from more than 100 countries participate in the event every year. Salim’s air quality platform was selected from more than 3,000 applications. Salim is particularly excited to showcase his innovation this year because the event coincides with the United Nations climate change negotiations, COP 28, also being held in Dubai. COP 28 will help draw global organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other United Nations agencies to the exhibition, increasing the potential for collaboration.

"Beyond funding and partnerships, I want to figure out how I can take this research to change someone’s life," Salim says.

After the Prototype for Humanity exhibition, Salim will join the Waterloo Climate Institute ’s delegation at COP 28 as an official observer of the proceedings. Salim hopes to observe how the intersections of health and adaptation are discussed during the sessions.