Antwerp project looks to improve Europe’s air quality


A series of pilot networks using affordable sensors aims to make better air pollution data available to cities, ultimately improving public health

Accessible data

Antwerp is taking part in a European pilot project to test air quality sensor networks, in a bid to improve data on pollution. Better information will help scientists monitor air pollution and its effects on public health.

The reliability of results from air quality sensor networks depends on the technology and the location where sensors are installed. High-quality sensors are expensive and the cost of setting up networks is a hurdle for cities that want to collect data.

To make high-quality measurements more widely available, the European Commission’s SensEURcity project is setting up a series of trial networks using cheaper sensors to assess how they might complement traditional networks. Flemish knowledge centre Vito is leading the Antwerp project alongside the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM).

“With the data we collect, we will gain insight into the possibilities of such systems and the data quality,” Martine Van Poppel, Vito project coordinator, told Het Nieuwsblad. “Based on the insights, we can improve the data quality and take further steps to measure air quality in a detailed manner. ”

Denser network required

Nine measuring stations already monitor Antwerp’s air quality. These are large, expensive installations that provide reliable figures on pollutants in the air in the immediate vicinity. Thanks to their data, the air quality at these locations can be monitored and VMM and Vito can draw up maps showing how different zones are affected by poor air quality.

However, to get a correct picture of certain neighbourhoods or environments, a much denser network of measurement points is needed. That is where cheaper sensors may help. In total, 34 such test sensors will be installed in the next few months, nine of them at the existing stations. The others will be spread across a 10km2 area, primarily within the ring road. Researchers will compare results from the new sensors with those of the existing equipment.

Simultaneous projects are taking place in Oslo and Zagreb, to find out what quality level can be achieved and whether that can be achieved in cities with different climates and contexts.

Until recently, Antwerp’s air quality has frequently ranked among the worst in Europe. This is in part due to the presence of the port and heavy industry, but also to the prevalence of diesel cars on the city’s roads. The city introduced a low-emissions traffic zone in 2017, with restrictions tightened this year, and its air quality has since improved.