Five Years of Accurate PM2.5 Measurements Demonstrate the Value of Low-Cost PurpleAir Monitors in Areas Affected by Woodsmoke

Dorothy L. Robinson, Nigel Goodman, Sotiris Vardoulakis

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Abstract

Low-cost optical sensors are used in many countries to monitor fine particulate (PM2.5) air pollution, especially in cities and towns with large spatial and temporal variation due to woodsmoke pollution. Previous peer-reviewed research derived calibration equations for PurpleAir (PA) sensors by co-locating PA units at a government regulatory air pollution monitoring site in Armidale, NSW, Australia, a town where woodsmoke is the main source of PM2.5 pollution. The calibrations enabled the PA sensors to provide accurate estimates of PM2.5 that were almost identical to those from the NSW Government reference equipment and allowed the high levels of wintertime PM2.5 pollution and the substantial spatial and temporal variation from wood heaters to be quantified, as well as the estimated costs of premature mortality exceeding $10,000 per wood heater per year. This follow-up study evaluates eight PA sensors co-located at the same government site to check their accuracy over the following four years, using either the original calibrations, the default woodsmoke equation on the PA website for uncalibrated sensors, or the ALT-34 conversion equation (see text). Minimal calibration drift was observed, with year-round correlations, r = 0.98 ± 0.01, and root mean square error (RMSE) = 2.0 μg/m3 for daily average PA PM2.5 vs. reference equipment. The utitilty of the PA sensors without prior calibration at locations affected by woodsmoke was also demonstrated by the year-round correlations of 0.94 and low RMSE between PA (woodsmoke and ALT-34 conversions) and reference PM2.5 at the NSW Government monitoring sites in Orange and Gunnedah. To ensure the reliability of the PA data, basic quality checks are recommended, including the agreement of the two laser sensors in each PA unit and removing any transient spikes affecting only one sensor. In Armidale, from 2019 to 2022, the continuing high spatial variation in the PM2.5 levels observed during the colder months was many times higher than any discrepancies between the PA and reference measurements. Particularly unhealthy PM2.5 levels were noted in southern and eastern central Armidale. The measurements inside two older weatherboard houses in Armidale showed that high outdoor pollution resulted in high pollution inside the houses within 1–2 h. Daily average PM2.5 concentrations available on the PA website allow air pollution at different sites across regions (and countries) to be compared. Such comparisons revealed major elevations in PA PM2.5 at Gunnedah, Orange, Monash (Australian Capital Territory), and Christchurch (New Zealand) during the wood heating season. The data for Gunnedah and Muswellbrook suggest a slight underestimation of PM2.5 at other times of the year when there are proportionately more dust and other larger particles. A network of appropriately calibrated PA sensors can provide valuable information on the spatial and temporal variation in the air pollution that can be used to identify pollution hotspots, improve estimates of population exposure and health costs, and inform public policy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7127
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume20
Issue number23
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes

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