Libraries Offer Air Quality Monitors Through CMU Program

Mar 21, 2016

Speck devices are currently available in Carnegie Libraries around the city.
Credit Carnegie Mellon University

Over the last year, more than 400 Pittsburghers have gone to their neighborhood Carnegie Library, not to borrow a book, but an air quality monitor.

Now, this partnership with Carnegie Mellon University will be expanded nationwide.

“We want to repeat this experiment all across the nation,” said Sarah Longo, operations manager at AirViz, which makes the monitors. “As a for-profit company, this is our way of paying it forward, because it’s part of our mission to empower as many people as possible.”

According to CMU, the rental program will expand to 100 public libraries nationwide. Branches will receive three free devices and a 15 percent discount on additional purchases.

They will also reach out to community members interested in being “air quality advocates,” who will spread the word about air quality monitors through their local library.

In the year since the program’s Pittsburgh launch, Longo said the response has been positive. More than 400 people have used the device to test the air in their home.

“We’ve had schools do anti-idling campaigns," she said. "We’ve had people clean their HVAC systems using these. We’ve had other people discover that they need to replace sewer systems."

The device detects indoor particle matter with an infrared sensor and feeds the user data on the quality of their air. Longo said from there, homeowners can make practical improvements to their home.

“Use different cleaning products, turn your kitchen vent on or off, notice what’s happening whenever you turn your air conditioning on or off," she said. "See if you need to put an air purifier in your child’s bedroom."

She said air quality can be a serious problem for those with asthma or COPD. The most harmful air pollutants are only one-thirtieth the diameter of a strand of human hair.

“They’re very, very small," Longo said. "We can’t see them with the naked eye, and those are the particles that we breathe deeply. They get into our lungs, they get into our bloodstream and they can cause long-term health problems.”