Breathe London is a new cutting-edge project to better understand Londoners’ exposure to air pollution. The Mayor of London and C40 (a network of cities committed to bold action on climate change and air pollution) have partnered with a consortium of air quality experts, led by Environmental Defense Fund Europe, to deploy mobile and static sensors to measure pollution levels across London, making London’s new air quality monitoring network the most sophisticated in the world.

Breathe London uses state-of-the art technology to make the invisible, visible – and actionable. Google Street View Cars fitted to collect data on Black Carbon, UFPs (Ultrafine Particles), PM₂.₅, NO, NO₂, CO₂ and Ozone Air pollution is a major health threat to all Londoners, with most areas of the capital regularly breaking limits for safe levels of air pollution. London is already a leading world innovator in air quality solutions. But we still have a real problem to solve.

Breathe London has installed 100 new state of the art, low cost, air quality sensors across the 33 London Boroughs. These AQ Mesh pods will be measuring air quality across the city for 12 months. They have been sited on street furniture and building facades, with one third on the pods going to school and nurseries. The pods measure a suite of air pollutants: PM₂.₅, PM₁₀, plus PM₁, as well as NO, NO₂ and CO₂. 10 pods are also measuring Ozone. Measuring CO₂ allows us to determine the sources the pollution, as different emitters have a different ratio of CO₂ to other pollutants. The new pods will fill gaps in the existing air quality monitoring network, help us understand the sources pollution of and, most importantly, the solutions to tackling air pollution.

Over the same year, Google street view cars, bristling with state of the art sensors, will sample more than 1000 miles of London roads. We are concerned with collecting scientifically robust data to ground truth the new air quality intervention and policies coming into force in London over the coming year, most notably the introduction of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). This is of particular interest to the Greater London Authority (GLA), who support the project, but do not sponsor it. The new sensor network will provide a firmer evidence base than the current sparse network, which relies heavily on modelling.

By piloting a hybrid static and mobile monitoring systems, coupled to state-of-the-art air quality models, we are breaking new ground on the assessment of air quality policy interventions. Breathe London’s new hyperlocal air quality monitoring network will support policymaking, policy evaluation and citizen engagement. The method of using robust science to support improvements to London’s air quality will provide a replicable model for action across other UK cities and globally.

Our expert team comprises internationally recognised leaders in the field and organisations with a very strong record of accomplishment, bringing many years of complementary experience to the project. They are Environmental Defense Fund (established in both the U.S. and the Europe), Air Monitors Ltd, Google Earth Outreach (Google), Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants (CERC), University of Cambridge and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).

Data from the project will be made publically available through a newly developed online platform on the Breathe London website, to come online in early 2019. Data will be presented using accessible maps and tools – which aim to drive citizen and policy action.

This unprecedented level of detail about air pollution in London will give Londoners a greater understanding of air pollution in their local areas. With data collected from mobile, static and wearable technology, and information about which policy interventions are effective, individual citizens and community groups can feel engaged and empowered to campaign for tougher action on air quality issues.

We know there is real power in this information. Not just to show us when and where the pollution is at its worst but also to see how things change when new ideas are introduced to do something about it. Then we can all call for more solutions, helping us get to grips with our big invisible problem. This project is starting in London but what we find out here will help inform cities around the world. Leading to a better quality of life for city dwellers everywhere.