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UBC team announces pollution-sniffing lab on wheels

Mobile lab will be used to measure concentrations of air pollutants across Vancouver
The PLUME van will help UBC researchers map different levels of air pollution and odours in Vancouver. (Credit: Paul Joseph/UBC Mechanical Engineering)

A special University of British Columbia vehicle will be sniffing out air pollution across Vancouver.

The Portable Laboratory for Understanding Human-Made Emissions (PLUME) is a vehicle that measures air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ground-level ozone, black carbon, methane and volatile organic compounds.

Naomi Zimmerman, a UBC professor and the engineer behind PLUME, says using a mobile laboratory rather than fixed sensors allows a greater distance to be covered.

“We can sample anywhere from highways, to by the ocean, to the middle of a field with the same instrumentation in a single day. The instruments in the van can collect data as often as every second,” she said.

Zimmerman’s team at the Integrated Research in Energy, Air, Climate and Health lab (iREACH lab) will use data collected by the van to create a map of the city, showing how levels of pollution components change over time.

PLUME is already collecting information on unpleasant smells in Metro Vancouver through a project called Smell Vancouver.

That project aims to aid the understanding of air quality and its implications for environmental injustice in the area.

According to Zimmerman, research links breathing polluted air to numerous health problems and millions of premature deaths worldwide each year.

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