Mobile phone users with asthma in south London are getting pollution alerts via SMS thanks to satellite technology from the European Space Agency (ESA).

The AirTEXT project uses data from weather instruments on the ESA’s Envisat satellite. Around 45 texts per year are sent over the system, with air quality warnings sent out the evening before they apply should ozone levels be predicted as high the following day.

Steve Potter, specialist pollution team manager at Croydon council, told E-Health Insider: "We have had a pilot group of 75 who have been testing it. We have been developing it a little, tweaking it.

"We are about to launch an extension of the project for up to a thousand users. The week after next we will be targeting about 20,000 households in Croydon."

Potter says that the service has been well-received by users, who generally say they will modify their behaviour if they receive a text about poor air quality – for instance, by not cycling to work on that day, or making sure they take their inhaler.

The AirTEXT system may be improved to help older people, too, says Potter: "Some of the older people don’t particularly like text messaging. What we propose to do in the next stage is to offer a voicemail service where people can register with their home phone number." A message will be left on their answer phones if the air quality is too low.

The satellite’s weather module interfaces with a system called PROMOTE, a French-based ESA project devoted to monitoring worldwide air quality, ozone levels and UV penetration. The data is used to forecast air pollution over Europe.

The Cambridge Environmental Research Council, who provide the AirTEXT service, uses information from PROMOTE, which is detailed enough to be street-specific.

(c) European Space Agency

The service came in useful in over a couple of days last June, when smog from the continent was seen to drift across the channel. Ozone levels (pictured above) were seen to be particularly high on the 24-26th of the month. The information was picked up by the satellite and transferred through PROMOTE to the AirTEXT system.

One user, Maria Ryan from Croydon, said: "I’m living close to a main road, and though I don’t know if it connected or not, my asthma has got bad again during the last few years.

"I check the pollution levels in the newspaper but now I get a forecast by text message a day beforehand. I am glad to get it as a warning to be prepared and take my inhaler with me on a bad day."

Claus Zehner, Earth Observation Applications Engineer at the ESA, told E-Health Insider that the service, which is free, was currently funded by the ESA but would become self-sustainable in the next three years.

After the ESA had finished all the development work on the project, said Zehner, the plan was to expand the service throughout London.

The London borough of Camden is also signed up to use air quality reports from the satellite, as well as York, the Avon Valley and South Wales’s road network.


AirTEXT on Croydon Council

European Space Agency


Image (c) European Space Agency, used with kind permission