Thermal detection of air pollution ‘could raise awareness’

Infrared technology could be deployed to show the scale of air pollution in the UK and ‘bridge the education gap’, a leading academic on air quality has suggested.

Infrared image of air pollution

Infrared image of air pollution

Martin Williams – King’s College Professor of Air Quality — believes that using thermal imaging would raise awareness and prevent some of the 16,000 deaths the World Health Organisation attributes to air pollution in the UK every year.

A system has been designed by FLIR Systems, which according to Professor Williams would allow the public to observe the effects of air pollutants as it happens, highlighting fumes dispersed from car exhausts or jet engines.


Professor Williams said: “Seeing is believing, and with so many deaths caused each year by air pollution, awareness could be vastly improved by modern technologies.”

He added: “By using infrared technology you can physically see pollutants and how they spread from the source, into the air. Technologies like this, that physically show pollution — whether fumes from a car, aeroplane or train — will help enormously in getting the message across.


Professor Williams claims thermal imaging can raise awareness and prevent deaths from air pollution

“Rather than relying on words or statistics we should be showing citizens how every-day things are polluting the air in their community. That would be a very powerful message indeed.”


Chris Brown, of FLIR Systems, describes the technology as a ‘sixth sense’ and argues that while many environmental groups are leading the way on monitoring air pollution — they have only ‘scratched the surface’ on raising awareness.

Mr Brown said: “Infrared technology, or thermal imaging, is really important in the context of air pollution as unfortunately, we are only born with five senses. And what infrared lets us to do is optimise that sixth sense — allowing us to see air pollution before and while it’s happening.”


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