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Device determines how much pollution its wearer is breathing in


April 18, 2012

The MicroPEM measures air pollution, along with its wearer's activity level

The MicroPEM measures air pollution, along with its wearer's activity level

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For decades now, scientists have been monitoring air pollution in order to better understand how atmospheric contaminants affect our health. The gathered data can tell us the amount and type of pollutants that are in the air, which can in turn sometimes be linked to health problems in the area. What that data doesn’t tell us, however, is the effect that different types of physical activities can have on the amount of pollutants that are breathed in – if a smog warning is issued, for instance, does that mean we shouldn’t go outside at all, or just that we shouldn’t go jogging outside? A new personal exposure monitoring device, known as the MicroPEM, has been designed to answer such questions.

The unit, created by North Carolina-based RTI International, is small enough to be worn on an individual’s body as they perform different tasks. Besides measuring the pollutant content of the surrounding air, it is also able to monitor the person’s activity level via built-in accelerometers.

In a recent study supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, scientists from RTI and several American universities outfitted test subjects with MicroPEMs. These people then performed a number of activities, such as sitting, standing, walking on a treadmill, climbing stairs, or sweeping.

When the motion data was subsequently processed, researchers were able to accurately calculate the breathing rates that accompanied the different activities. This data could then be combined with a real-time record of the pollutants that were present at the time, along with the subjects’ physical reactions.

“This technology is a game changer in exposure health studies,” said Dr. Steve Chillrud, a research professor at Columbia University and co-author of the study. “With adult ventilation rates varying by a factor of four across low to moderate activities, any study looking for associations with biomarkers or health outcomes should be better served by potential inhaled dose than with exposure concentrations.”

Source: RTI International

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

The must have fashion accessory of 2012!!


Hmmmm ever so tastefully packaged in an industry standard electronics kit box.

Neat, discrete and no one will ever notice.

Mr Stiffy

I'm interested ! In fact I've been looking for exactly such a device for years.

I'm an occupational health physician, and we are monitoring over 750,000 workers in 35,000 Belgian enterprises, advising their employers about health, safety and environmental conditions at work.

Where could I find the technical specs of this MicroPEM ? Is this device commercialized ?


The internal combustion engine will soon be banned,

Stewart Mitchell

and where can I get one of these....

Michelle BarlondSmith

Knowing I am breathing pollution does not clean the air. It will just fill me with more anxiety than I am already feeling about our environment!


I think the obvious response is to wonder why oh why ud want to know such a thing wihthout the 2nd part of the device ie the counter polution thingy hmmm and she looks so happy knowing shel die 5 years before her time in the photo.


Who do I contact to test one of these where I work & where I live? I get to work, walk into the building & my eyes start itching or watering, my throat gets sore, ears & head starts hurting, etc... Could be a huge market if it works :) Plus would help me prove my point that something here is really making my lungs hurt.

Sherry Friedrichs
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