Measuring air quality around construction sites

Marion Cugnet / 21 February 2019

Whether you live, work or are a visitor in Croydon, it is hard to miss it: construction sites are everywhere and keep popping up like mushrooms. This is part of the massive regeneration of the town centre that is happening over the next five years, known as ‘the Growth Zone’.

With so many developments using construction machinery and generating increased construction vehicle traffic, one of our key priorities is to understand their impact on air quality in their surroundings to anticipate and control pollution peaks in a proactive way.

However with very little if any data available on construction site related air pollution, we needed to find a solution to collect quality data that would help us and our partners take preventative rather than remedy actions to reduce exposure to air pollution.

Our first Internet of Things (IoT) pilot idea was born!

The challenge

As relative beginners in the field of IoT, we partnered with Digital Catapult and joined the Things Connected innovation for local authorities programme, and ran an innovation challenge with them.

We went through the process of defining and refining our challenge including IoT requirements, participated in the market engagement day and ran a deep-dive workshop in Croydon where a cohort of selected businesses had the opportunity to go around some of the development sites, meet with Council pollution and construction logistics officers and ask as many questions as they wanted about the challenge before pitch day.

It is fair to say that we were very impressed by the level of innovation and engagement from the suppliers, and on pitch day, it was tough judging to pick a winner. But we were very pleased to select and partner with Air Public to run the pilot in July 2018.

The trial

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AirPublic sensor on a lamppost

The first task was to carry out an analysis of the site environment to identify where the devices could be installed to provide good site coverage and be within range of the LoRa network, which enables long range wireless communication. We then went into the business of installing the sensors.

There we faced several challenges in getting the project live, including those that often emerge in partnership working across many organisations and the need for careful commercial negotiation with various parties with regard to the location and installation of our sensors.

However, each challenge was approached collaboratively and resolved and the project went live in December.

We have now been collecting data for a few weeks, using LoRaWAN technology and so far:

  • the technology is proving efficient and reliable for this type of monitoring, we have not had dropped connectivity or data loss since we went live
  • a first iteration of a dashboard showing live data is being tested by our pollution and construction logistics teams, and an alerts system for when levels exceed acceptable levels of pollution is now being iterated.

Once we get more data history, we will be able to analyse it, whilst taking into account more of the context of onsite activity. This will help us understand the impact of construction sites at different stages of development, from demolition to construction, with the aim to provide reliable evidence to support future planning negotiations and the development of sustainable construction practice.

We are still in the early stages of our pilot. There are already many lessons learnt and we will be capturing them and sharing more on them, and our progress and findings, as the pilot unfolds.

Marion Cugnet is the Smart Cities Project Manager for the Croydon Digital Service. Follow her on Twitter @m_cugnet

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