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Brussels-wide citizen air quality project gets under way

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: Illustration picture shows the Brussels' Justice Palace and the smog above the city. (BELGA PHOTO BENOIT DOPPAGNE)
05:24 27/09/2021

How healthy is the air in the streets of Brussels? Some 3,000 inhabitants of Brussels started a large-scale air quality measurement project on Saturday to find out the answer.

With test tubes attached to their windows, they will measure the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the outside air for four weeks. Even the King is taking part from his residence in Laeken.

The CurieuzenAir research project is a collaboration between media outlets BRUZZ, De Standaard and Le Soir in association with the University of Antwerp, the BRAL sustainable city movement and the ULB university in Brussels. It is being undertaken as part of the Brussels Clean Air partnership, an initiative to tackle air pollution which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and Brussels Environment. It is the first large-scale citizen survey into the air quality of Brussels.

The study was announced in May and, since then, Brussels residents have been registering their homes as a measuring point. As many as 5,578 people throughout the region have done so, from which researchers have selected 3,000 measuring points, from Watermael-Boitsfort to Schaerbeek, from the European quarter to smaller residential areas. There is even a measuring tube in the Royal Domain in Laeken.

Prime minister Alexander De Croo is also taking part from his office at the governemt building at Rue de la Loi 16. And the European Commission is installing measuring boards on some of its buildings. There are also 64 measuring points in Brussels parks and at the official measuring stations of Brussels Environment.

A total of 2,570 Brussels families, 283 companies and 83 schools are participating in the survey. They are all hanging a folding board on their windows with two measuring tubes attached to it. The tubes measure the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air, a toxic gas that mainly comes from traffic emissions. The nitrogen molecules cling to the tube and can be analysed at a later date.

The measurement project comes to a close on 23 October, after which all participants will take their measuring tubes down from their windows and send them to the researchers. In the coming months, scientists will analyse in detail the state of air quality at each of the 3,000 measuring points.

The results will be announced in March next year. They will then be shown on an interactive dot map, which will be published on the BRUZZ website. Each participant will receive a personal measurement report.

"Thanks to all the inhabitants of Brussels who measure along with CurieuzenAir, we will have valuable data to make the air we breathe cleaner,” said Brussels environment minister Alain Maron. “I am already very grateful to all the citizen scientists."

"Data is critical to helping cities better understand and address the critical threat of air pollution," said Antha Williams, head of climate and environmental programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies. "The World Health Organisation's new global air quality guidelines show that we need to do more to prevent millions of deaths from air pollution."

Written by Nick Amies