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Citizen science project seeks volunteers to measure Brussels air pollution

00:02 07/09/2020

A citizens' collective fighting for better air quality in Brussels is appealing for Bulletin readers to volunteer for a new year-long science project.

Non-profit association Les Chercheurs d'Air needs 50 Brussels residents, spread across the region, to measure nitrogen dioxide levels outside their home. The collaborative campaign aims to identify and tackle the most highly polluted areas of the capital.

In addition to the 50 citizens who will be selected to participate in the project, pupils will be taking air quality measurements in their playgrounds at more than 60 schools around the Brussels region, spread across every municipality except Evere and Woluwe-Saint-Lambert.

Les Chercheurs d'Air claims this is the first time in Europe that a citizen science project has measured nitrogen dioxide levels in a city on such a wide scale for a whole year.

The initiative has the backing of Brussels Environment, the region's environment minister Alain Maron, Bloomberg Philanthrophies, The Bulletin, BRUZZ, Le Soir and 17 of the city's 19 municipalities.

Volunteers can apply to take part by filling in the form (in French or Dutch) here. The selected participants will receive a free measuring kit and instructions for the year-long experiment, which will begin in October.

The data collected during this project will be analysed by an independent laboratory and will make it possible to map areas in which pollution exceeds World Health Organisation limits and where actions should be taken.

Pierre Dornier, founder and president of Les Chercheurs d’Air, said: "As the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us, it is very difficult to fight something that we cannot see. Making air pollution visible gives us a better chance to fight it. Greater efforts must be made to sustainably improve the quality of the air in Brussels."

Bloomberg Philanthropies head of environment programmes, Antha Williams, added: "The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us not only the urgent need for clean air, but also the capacity for citizens and communities to protect each other and work together towards a common goal. This project harnesses the power of collective action to raise awareness around air pollution and effect real change."

Air pollution causes weakening of lung function, increased cases of asthma and chronic bronchitis and increased risk of obesity, diabetes, neurological disorders and depression.

According to a recent report from the European Environment Agency, air pollution is the cause of 9,380 premature deaths per year in Belgium. Nitrogen dioxide alone was responsible for 1,600 premature deaths.

Brussels environment minister Alain Maron said: "Air pollution is a real public health problem, which the Brussels government wants to tackle head-on. In addition to strengthening the official air quality measurement network, on which we are working, supporting citizens' initiatives of this type is crucial to us.

"By studying the air pollution in more depth in sensitive places in the region, this project will inform our political decisions, while making Brussels residents aware of this important issue."

Written by Paul McNally