The young people fighting the worst smog in Europe | #students | #parents

Mimi Kimovska-Hristova, a paediatrician in the intensive care unit at the City General Hospital, has witnessed for years the effects of the toxic air on Skopje’s children. “Children have much smaller airways, so the particulate matter gets stuck more easily,” she says. The air pollution damages the protective tissue that lines the airways, leaving them more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria, and excess mucus is produced, leading to coughing. (Read more about the link between air pollution and respiratory diseases such as Covid-19)

“I’ll see many cases of bronchitis from autumn to early spring,” Kimovska-Hristova continues. “It’s like they’re choking when they come in – they’re actually breathless.” She adds that families can afford to move out of the city centre to a less polluted neighbourhood, children’s bodies can easily recover. Kimovska-Hristova also sees high rates of asthma and cancers in children “that we wouldn’t expect to see, such as tumours in the throat”.

Before the app’s launch, Pesheva says it had been difficult to mobilise more than a few hundred people for environmental protests. But in December 2015, with winter smog at its peak, over 1,000 people gathered in Skopje’s main square to protest against air pollution. “People were contacting us on social media every day, asking what they could do and how they could get involved,” Pesheva remembers.

However, there was one problem with the pollution data that AirCare was using. The government measuring stations it is pulled from are incredibly expensive to maintain and often malfunction or break down. This leads to the readings not showing on the app. A 2019 UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report into air pollution in the Western Balkans highlighted inconsistent data due to a lack of financial resources to maintain the stations was a challenge across the region. Pesheva discussed the situation with a colleague at the marketing agency where she works, Pance Cavkovski.

“I started looking online for other solutions and I found you can buy sensor equipment for about €60,” he says. Cavkovski and colleagues ordered around 50 sensors and distributed them to colleagues. The devices need to be placed outside, such as on a balcony, fixed to a wall and away from direct sunlight, rain and other sources of contamination, such as chimneys. They also can’t be higher than four storeys up if they’re to get an accurate indication of ground-level pollution.

Cavkovski created an app, PulseEco, collating all the readings, and made the data open source so that it shows on AirCare too. Cavkovski also published guidelines for how people can order and construct sensors themselves and how other cities can join the network.

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