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New Images Show Photographic Evidence of Air Pollution

New Images Show Photographic Evidence of Air Pollution
06 June 2024

Photographs that make invisible air pollution visible have been published, demonstrating the health risks posed to people living and working in Ethiopia, India, and the UK.


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The project was created by artist Robin Price and University of Birmingham environmental scientist Professor Francis Pope, using digital light painting and pollution sensors. The sensors measure PM (particulate matter) mass concentrations, taking the sensors’ real-time signals to control a moving LED array programmed to flash more rapidly as PM concentration increases. A long exposure photograph is taken with the artist moving the LED array in front of the camera and the flash becoming a dot on the photograph. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), particulate matter affects people more than any other pollutant, and causes health impacts even at very low concentrations. Because of the small size of PM10’s particles, they can penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs, contributing to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer. 

Air pollution is considered one of the main threats to both the environment and human health and a leading cause of death globally. WHO estimates 99 per cent of the global population breathe polluted air, causing approximately 7 million premature deaths worldwide each year.

Professor Pope said: “Air pollution is the leading global environmental risk factor. By painting with light to create impactful images, we provide people with an easy-to-understand way of comparing air pollution in different contexts - making something that was largely invisible visible.”


Port Talbot Steelworks


Large variations in air pollution were demonstrated around the Port Talbot steelworks, in Wales. Air quality monitoring and light painting at dusk in summer measured PM2.5 concentrations in the range of 30-40 mg/m3, when the hourly average value was 24 mg/m3.


A Kitchen in Ethiopia 


Air pollution varied dramatically between locations in Ethiopia. A kitchen using biomass stoves for food preparation where PM2.5 concentrations in the room were up to 20 times greater than what was measured nearby outdoors.



Picture: a photograph that shows a person working inside a kitchen in Ethiopia using a biomass stove, showing a large concentration of LED lights. Image Credit: Robin Price


Children’s Playgrounds in India


Pollution was measured at two children’s playgrounds in India, 500 km apart, one in urban Delhi, the other in rural Palampur.  The Palampur playground reported PM2.5 values – at least 12.5 times less than those measured in Delhi.


Picture: a photograph of a children's playground with swings and a slide, showing a large concentration of LED lights. Image Credit: Robin Price


The collection of photographs, called “Nature Communications Earth & Environment” is part of the ‘Air of the Anthropocene’ project, which has been used to raise air pollution awareness by UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO).

Picture: a photograph that shows a field outside Port Talbot steelworks showing a large concentration of LED lights. Image Credit: Robin Price

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 06 June 2024


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