Over the years, scientists have gathered all sorts of data on air pollution, and it's a given that contaminants in the air affect our health, but the missing link has been calculating the potential dosage, or the amount which actually enters the body through the respiratory system. But a new monitoring device is helping to close that gap.
The new pollution monitor, developed by RTI International, uses personal exposure monitors coupled with acceleration sensors that determine an individual's activity levels and then predict how fast they breathe those pollutants into their body. This new technology will help scientists to calculate in real-time how much pollutant actually enters the respiratory system.
"While scientists have been measuring exposure levels in the air for decades, knowing the pollutant concentration doesn't necessary indicate how much is taken into the body. By knowing how fast someone is breathing, we can now estimate how much of a pollutant is actually making it into the respiratory system." - Charles Rodes, Ph.D., lead author
In a pilot program for the MicroPEM devices, the participants wore a prototype of the exposure monitors during a variety of activities, such as walking on a treadmill, climbing stairs, sitting, standing, etc. After processing the motion data captured by the accelerometer in the device, the team found that they were able to reasonably predict breathing rates for a wide range of typical activities.
"This technology is a game changer in exposure health studies. With adult ventilation rates varying by a factor of four across low to moderate activities, any study looking for associations with biomarkers or health outcomes should be better served by potential inhaled dose than with exposure concentrations." - Steve Chillrud, Ph.D., research professor at Columbia University and co-author
The study's authors believe that this technology could help to decrease the cost of linking pollution exposure to the occurrence of diseases that develop over fairly short time periods, such as cardiopulmonary diseases.
The initial results from the pilot program, which included scientists from RTI, Columbia University, Stanford University, MIT, and Northeastern University, were just published at ScienceDirect.