Navigating Air Pollution on Our Global Journey

by Jane Waterman

Being married to an International teacher, I have been fortunate to live all over the world from the UK to Switzerland, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Chiang Mai and South Korea! I have loved living in so many different countries and what these experiences have given to me and our family. But beyond my social media posts of palm trees, beaches and glamorous city scapes there has been an invisible menace that has followed us around most of the countries we have called home… air pollution.

The view from my flat at different pollution levels.

My eye-opener to the harsh reality of air pollution came when we relocated to Asia. Despite the initial thrill of fulfilling a personal dream, I soon found myself feeling unwell regularly. Battling allergies to dust and dander was nothing new for me, but this time, it was different. My eyes burned, my nose relentlessly ran, and my face swelled every few weeks. It was then that we became acutely aware that my health was being directly impacted by air pollution. Tracking the air quality through various apps, we were astonished by the alarming numbers! There were days where the smog lingered and you could not even see the world famous skyline! But it was the clear days that troubled me the most; a deceptive calm that lulled people into a false sense of security yet could still surpass WHO recommended levels. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be at some level of denial (including myself). Ultimately it was a defining part of our decision making to eventually leave. We did not want to make the same mistake twice and we left for the clean air of Switzerland! The family’s sniffles and coughs all disappeared after a month of living in Switzerland and we have never enjoyed breathing deeply so much and being so grateful for being able to live in such a clean environment!

The clean air of Switzerland.

Then my husband received a job offer in Chiang Mai! We had loved living in Thailand before but before we jumped at the opportunity I checked their air quality. For the majority of the year the air was fine….. But from February to April Chiang Mai suffered with some of the world’s worst air pollution due to their burning season. After living in pollution before, I really did not want to go back to it. The Head assured us that her school had set us an air quality group and had encouraged parents and students to find solutions! And they had. And this is where I was introduced to AirGradent for the first time. A couple of the school’s parents had designed an air quality monitor to read what pollutants were in the air and after seeing the results the school installed a Positive Pressure System. This meant that even on the worst of the burning days we had air as clean as Switzerland across the school. The air monitors were set up to send alerts to teachers about indoor pollution levels, and as a parent I could check that the classrooms my children were in were within safe levels. This meant we could enjoy our time in Chiang Mai without worrying about our health and the health of our children.

I love living in Asia but seeing it so directly affected by air pollution is heartbreaking. And made me realise that our ability to escape the worst of it stemmed from privilege, while local communities had no choice but to endure the consequences. This inequality struck a chord with me, so when the opportunity arose to reconnect with AirGradient and its founders, I seized the chance to get involved. What I liked about AirGradient from the start is its mission. Being committed to raising awareness about air pollution, they actively contribute to research and education. Donating their air quality monitors to a large-scale study in the UK and other NGO causes around the world. They have made their monitors open source (hardware and software). This approach empowers those who can’t afford monitors to build their own. The company prioritises impact over profit, a principle that resonates strongly with me. I genuinely believe we can make a significant difference. There’s no greater cause than working towards a cleaner, healthier environment for all. Not just the few.

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