The Standard: Clearer way in life as app appraises risks

Clearer way in life as app appraises risks by Professor Christopher Frey, Adjunct Professor of Division of Environment & Sustainability, HKUST (The Standard) 
In June, the government announced plans to revise the Indoor Air Quality Certification Scheme, where inspection of mold as well as two volatile organic compounds, naphthalene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, would be added to requirements for a premise to obtain an IAQ certificate.
However, both natural ventilation (eg. open windows) and mechanical ventilation bring outdoor pollutants to the indoors in varying amounts.
The government’s Air Quality Health Index is useful as an indicator of outdoor air quality, but does not pertain directly to air quality indoors or while in transit.
The IAQ Certification Scheme is voluntary and applies in whole or in part to a relatively small fraction of buildings.
Personal contact with air pollution occurs anywhere, including indoors at home, work, school, or shopping, outdoors, or while in transit.
However, as individuals, we typically lack information regarding pollution at these locations.
Such information would enable us to make our own decisions to prevent or avoid pollution, such as by changing ventilation practices or by plotting routes in our daily routines.
At the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, we are developing a personalized assessment system where end-users will be able to access real time air quality information, both indoor and outdoor, via smartphones.
The system, “Personalised Real-Time Air Quality System for Exposure – Hong Kong,” or Praise, is now undergoing rigorous testing, based on data being collected with portable sensors.
As implementation grows bigger in scale, Praise can provide full coverage to all parts of Hong Kong, allowing residents to keep pollutants at bay by planning the “cleanest” route.
By limiting exposure, the risk from breathing pollutants that cause acute or chronic adverse health effects can be substantially reduced.
For some, symptoms of exposure to air pollution occur quickly, such as irritated eyes and scratchy throats.
For those with existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, symptoms can be immediate and severe. For others, symptoms may take longer to emerge.
Personal exposure to pollution is affected by daily activity patterns, ventilation practices and the built environment.
Thus, there are many opportunities to manage and reduce these exposures.
Smart living, made possible with knowledge of science and technology, can help reduce air pollution exposure and improve public health.
HKUST experts have their fingers on the pulse of a new age of science, technology and innovation.