Skip Navigation

I Wish There Were...

An illustration of a smartphone app that can
Brett Ryder
By Ben Hobbs
Environmental Engineer, Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering
I Wish There Were...
A pollution app for a smartphone that could “sniff” the air and record what you’re being exposed to and at what levels.

We’d like to think the air we breathe contains nothing but oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide in healthy, fixed ratios. In truth, outdoor air contains pollutants such as  sulfur dioxide, fine particulates, ground-level ozone, and allergens that produce health consequences, from watery eyes to respiratory disease and cancer. Indoors, carbon monoxide is a common threat. A pollution app, says Ben Hobbs, could assess  air quality in real time (is it worthy of an orange alert?). The app, and its associated sensors and software, would detect pollutants and then store and display the data on your phone. This information could also be uploaded to a database. “This would be a terrifically useful research tool to better understand where air quality is a problem and, in particular, what we are exposed to,” Hobbs says. “Do you have unhealthy air in your kitchen that you need to fix? This app could tell you.”