Climate Action

Libraries for Better Lungs: Borrowable Air Quality Monitors at Pittsburgh Libraries

A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body We all know that what we check out from the library is great for the brain, but what if it were just as great for our bodies too? Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab is working to do just that. Pittsburgh public libraries now allow people to borrow a Speck air quality sensor, which is a device that measures the air pollution and air qualities in people’s homes. In the most polluted city on the east coast, this could be the start of some big improvements. Each and Every Speck Developed by the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, Speck is a home air quality monitor that determines the amount and size of airborne particles in the home. Air quality is then rated between 0 and 640, with 0-20 being the ideal healthy range. Air quality varies greatly from place to place, and can have serious impacts on human health. It strongly affects those with asthma and heart or lung diseases, and even in the healthy airborne pollution decreases lung function and increases the risk of heart attacks. What’s just as worrying is the reality that lower income citizens are more likely to live in areas with worse air quality. A Speck sensor typically costs $200, but CREATE Lab has made it available to a wider range of users by providing it free for lenders through Pittsburgh’s library system. And the efforts don’t stop there, CREATE Lab has begun working to place Speck units in libraries all over the country. Sensing Change Awareness is the first step in tackling the invisible beast of air pollution. CREATE Lab’s goal is to improve citizen’s awareness of their own environment and help address the problem of indoor pollution. Speck shows us one method of affordably involving and educating people in the ways they can combat the pollution that affects their lives and environments. Indoor air pollution impacts us in the places where we least expect it and least want it. Knowing about what’s in our air helps us decide where and how to act in order to improve living quality. There are tons of easy and helpful steps we can take to clean up air at home, from ventilating the house after cooking to installing filters over a window mounted air conditioner. Speck will help us pinpoint which places need the most attention, but it’s up to us to get up and fix those problems one step at a time.   Julie Hu, Intern