Here's a study from April by Columbia that links air pollution with a drop in children's IQs.
Another was published last week by the University of Pittsburgh, linking unclean air with the risk of autism. A representative from TZOA forwarded them both to me following a discussion about the company's wearable air pollution quality tracker, but I can't really say I needed much convincing on that front.
Airborne pollutants are having a profound impact on the health of the collective health of fellow breathers around on the world — particularly those in developing nations, where air quality regulation is often far more lax in regard to both corporate polluters and indoor hazards. However, while not breathing isn't really in the cards for those of us determined to stick around, TZOA's primary focus is making users smarter about the air they breathe.
The Vancouver-by-way-of-San Francisco company's titular first product is an "enviro-tracker" that clips onto a user's lapel or book bag, detecting the presence of particulate matter in the air — tiny particles that are small enough to make their way past the body's myriad lines of defense and wind up inside of breather's lungs.
The device garnered a fair amount of press for the company, riding the wearable electronics buzz in the media, while offering a fascinating alternative to the standard smartwatches and fitness trackers. The product fell short of its initial lofty Kickstarter goal of $110,000 (scoring a quite respectable $74k), but the company pressed on.
At present, TZOA has 100 "ambassadors" testing the product in 25 countries around the world. The excitement surrounding the wearable pollution tracker's initial rollout also extends beyond a loyal consumer base, capturing the imagination of researchers looking for an affordable, scalable method for monitoring air quality in the developing world. At $99, TZOA is a fraction of the cost of more traditional monitors.
TZOA has gone back to the crowdfunding well, this time eyeing Indiegogo in an attempt to fund both its consumer trackers and develop a more sophisticated $200 version aimed at researchers.
Both devices operate in roughly the same fashion, sucking air in through a gap between two layers. Once inside, lasers are used to scan the particles, both counting and measuring them in the process.
"The size of the particles is the most important thing," TZOA co-founder and CEO Kevin Hart told TechTimes. "We're counting the number of particles in the air and we're telling you the size of the filter. They were looking at the concentration. They were looking at larger particles that can't be inhaled."
It's slightly counter-intuitive. In this instance, the smaller the particle, the more potential damage it can do, as it's more likely to make it directly into a person's lung. At present, the devices aren't capable of actually identifying the makeup of the particulates — the company is working toward that functionality, along with various other features (including a fanless intake system), but in the interim, the system uses certain contextual clues to determine the nature of the pollutants.
Geolocation, ultraviolet and ambient light sensors are present, helping the system to determine key details like whether the user was in- or outdoors when collecting a reading. Even more key to pinpointing the source is the contextual information provided by the user by way of the TZOA app.
Users are a huge part of unlocking TZOA's future success. On the research side, they're lovingly referred to as "citizen scientists," collecting data that would otherwise be missed by more traditional rollouts. "When you have five to 10 sensors that are located on rooftops, you're not figuring out what the problems are," explained Hart. "You're not putting them next to the sources. This could drive policy changes."
Air pollution, as defined by TZOA, extends beyond the standard industrial output that immediately springs to mind. The category also includes naturally-occurring irritants like dust, pollen and mold as well as manmade carcinogens like asbestos. In some areas, indoor pollution can be as — and is sometimes more — harmful than the outdoor variety. In India, for example, 3.5 million deaths a year are associated with indoor pollution, according to numbers published last year by The Guardian.
Another 500,000 deaths, mostly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, are caused by outdoor air pollution from cooking. Indoor air pollution is a bigger killer than malaria or tuberculosis. That's four million global deaths caused largely by cooking, people in poverty cooking food indoors on stoves fueled by wood, discarded plant matter, coal and even animal waste.
A large-scale deployment of air monitoring devices could, by TZOA's reckoning affect both the decisions individuals make with regard to the air they breathe and the regulations implemented by governments.
"This is a game changer in the air quality space," said Hart. "We're doing things that the government won't do."