15 May 2019

Utrecht University provides technology for Google Air View cars

Creating a street-by-street picture of air pollution in Amsterdam

Google Air View auto
From left to right: Pim van der Feltz (Google), Sharon Dijksma (Amsterdam) and Roel Vermeulen

Utrecht University is collaborating with Google and the municipality of Amsterdam to map the air quality in the city at street level. As part of these efforts, UU has fitted the Google Street View cars with special measurement equipment. This is the first time that Google Air View is being implemented in the Netherlands.

The quality of the air that we breathe has a major impact on our health. Every year, more than 4 million people worldwide die prematurely due to air pollution. Air quality also has a significant effect on the health of Amsterdam residents, whose average lifespan is cut short by one year as a result of breathing polluted air. Information about the air quality at street level can help city planners to locate and address areas with poor air quality.

Low levels of air pollution

UU has equipped two Street View cars with sensors that measure nitrogen dioxide, particulates, ultra-fine particulates and soot. ‘The measurements will be taken at street level’, says Roel Vermeulen, professor of Environmental Epidemiology and Exposome Analysis. ‘The air quality is currently only measured at a limited number of measuring points in the city, so this will provide a huge amount of new information. That will be very useful for researchers: I myself would like to study the harmful effects of low levels of air pollution and the specific role that ultra-fine particulates play in this. The data will also be shared with residents, so that everyone can see where the air in Amsterdam is the cleanest and where the pollution is the worst.’

The cars will drive around Amsterdam for a year and measure each street multiple times in order to ultimately arrive at an annual average measurement of the air quality.

Exposome

This project is part of the exposome study at Utrecht University. This study looks at the total range of external factors influencing public health. Vermeulen: ‘We know that genetic disposition is a risk factor for most chronic diseases, but we are often unable to fully explain why one person gets sick and another does not, or why a particular treatment works for one patient but not for others. An important piece of the puzzle is missing in the search for a clear answer to individual health issues. The exposome is the missing link between genes and health, and air pollution is also an important aspect of that.’