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Citizens measure fine dust

In Marseille, 2000 mobile measuring devices are being distributed to citizens to measure air pollution in the metropolis. The aim is to obtain more precise information on the improvement of air quality and the effectiveness of the environmental zone in the city on the Mediterranean Sea.

This summer, the Diams (Digital Alliance for Aix-Marseille Sustainability) project is scheduled to start in Marseille. It consists of distributing 2000 mobile particulate matter measuring devices to citizens to involve them in a participatory study to measure air pollution in the metropolis.

The sensors can be installed stationary in the garden and on the house, or mobile on a car or bicycle to provide a more accurate measurement of particulate matter at different locations and routes in the city. Some measuring devices will also be installed on schools, municipal beehives and 300 La Poste vehicles.

The project, which is supported by the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolitan Region and organised by the Atmosud association, costs about 4.8-million euros. The European Union is financing 80 % of the project. Diams was supposed to start in September last year, but the pandemic caused delays. Since the data last year would probably not have been representative due to the change in the traffic situation, the start in summer is better suited to researching air pollution in the metropolis, says Stephan Castel, head of the innovation cluster at Atmosud.

Atmosud, of course, sees advantages in more accurate mapping of air pollution, as it allows measures to be taken that precisely target areas with too much particulate matter. But the project is also about raising awareness among citizens and policymakers about particulate pollution in the city. The participatory process increases citizens' environmental awareness and can positively influence their behaviour. In addition, the open platform for communicating data should make the city's air pollution problems more transparent in the future.

Similar projects like Diams already existed in other cities, such as Berlin, where citizens had not measured particulate matter, but NO2, and thus a NO2 atlas was created. The project, in which Green-Zones had also participated, uses the information from the atlas to identify nitrogen oxide hotspots and inform citizens, but also to influence political decisions.

Air pollution in Marseille was previously significantly too high. Measurements this year could show whether the low emission zone is successful. This will probably also have an influence on a potential tightening of the rules in the city in the south of France.