Affordable air quality monitoring reveals rural children’s exposure to harmful particulate matter

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In a recently published study, Dr Scientific reportThe researchers discuss the development of a low-cost air pollution measurement system and validate the system by measuring particulate matter levels in rural areas frequented by children over four years.

Study: Health risks for children exercising in air-polluted environments can be reduced by monitoring air quality with low-cost particulate sensors. Image Credit: ROMAN DZIUBALO /


Exposure to ambient particulate matter is a major public health concern in urban and rural environments. Fine particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers (µm) or smaller (PM2.5) can have serious harmful effects on various organs and tissues. Particulate matter 10 µm or smaller (PM10) is a global common standard for measuring particulate matter levels during air quality monitoring.

Most major cities in the European Union have at least one government-supported station for air quality monitoring. However, accurate systems for measuring particulate matter levels are expensive, making the establishment of such systems in small towns and rural areas impossible.

Government institutions and various universities in the European Union are involved in the development of low-cost air quality monitoring systems. These systems for monitoring air quality can be widely implemented in cities and rural areas, which can ultimately lead to changes that can avoid potential health risks associated with air pollution.

About the study

In the current study, researchers monitored air quality levels from the school vicinity of several villages in the Malopolska province of the Lesser Poland region. Particulate matter levels were measured using a new and low-cost air pollution measurement system called the Storm and DustNet measurement network developed by the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

Other parameters such as air temperature, pressure, and humidity were also measured along with particulate matter levels using university measuring stations that are part of the Storm and Dustnet measurement network. The university’s measurement centers monitor the concentration of suspended and airborne particles with diameters ranging from 10-0.3 µm. Measurements were taken every two seconds to calculate an average measurement per minute.

University measurement stations were set up at 11 locations across the Małopolska province, 1.5–4 km from each other. Not all locations were in proximity to roads or highways with heavy traffic.

All but one of the stations were set up near primary or nursery schools to monitor particulate matter levels. The last monitoring station was installed in a small village that was close to a green area with a low building density.

Air quality has been measured over four years starting from September 2018. The study period includes the hot period between April and September and the cold period between October and March.

Particulate levels exposed to children were calculated based on measurements taken between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the study period.

Study results

Concentration of PM10 They were often above the warning threshold of 50 µg per m3, especially during the winter months, thus indicating a serious health risk for children exercising outdoors during this time Maximum PM10 Measurements were made from density centers located in a country town and near primary schools during the winter.

Minimum PM10 Values ​​were obtained, on average, from stations located near a village primary school or near green space and in a small village without many buildings. Average PM10 Concentration values ​​did not exceed 19 µg per meter during the heating period3 For any station.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, adolescents and children need at least one hour or more of physical activity, as physical activity levels are directly related to overall fitness, strength, muscle mass and resilience to stress. Children have a high tolerance based on maximum oxygen intake.

However, the amount of oxygen they consume during physical activity also increases their exposure to harmful particulate matter, as it deposits the particles deep in their lungs. Thus, increased awareness of exposure to particulate matter and regular monitoring of air quality levels are essential for population health, especially for adolescents and children.


The low-cost system for monitoring particulate matter concentrations was effective in providing comprehensive air quality measurements for four years. The results of the study showed that children exercising outdoors in rural areas are exposed to harmful particulate matter, especially during the colder months, thus making them vulnerable to various health problems.

Journal Reference:

  • Nieckarz, Z., Pawlak, K., & Zoladz, JA (2023). Health risks for children exercising in air-polluted environments can be reduced by monitoring air quality with low-cost particulate sensors. Scientific report 13(1); 18261. do doi: 10.1038/s41598023454263.

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