MicroPEM™ Sensor for Measuring Exposure to Air Pollution

Miniaturized, wearable device gathers real-time data to support environmental and occupational health studies

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and RTI-funded

For decades, studies of health risks from air pollution were limited by uncertainty in characterizations of acute and chronic aerosol exposures. Because existing technologies for directly measuring sized aerosols were expensive and complex, researchers used surrogate metrics to estimate personal exposures.

This approach left critical gaps in data, making it difficult to define dose-response relationships for asthma, acute lower respiratory infections and other diseases. That is, researchers could not make clear connections between the level of exposure to air pollutants a person received and the health effects he or she experienced. This, in turn, made it difficult for researchers to evaluate interventions to reduce risks to human health from exposure.

In the households of much of the developing world, the everyday practice of cooking on a wood-fuel stove can expose family members to air pollution. The stoves release harmful levels of particulate matter, potentially causing asthma, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases. Mothers and very young children who spend most of their days at home, suffer the most exposure to this harmful smoke.

It has long been suspected that people who are frequently exposed to cookstove smoke, mainly women and children, may be more likely to develop respiratory ailments and numerous other health problems. However, exposures can be difficult to measure at the individual level, and the acceptable household air pollution exposure thresholds remain unknown.

To combat asthma and other critical health challenges, researchers need accurate data on personal exposure to air pollution.

In response to the need for better exposure data, in 2006 our experts in particulate matter (PM) measurement launched an effort to develop a personal PM exposure monitor—dubbed MicroPEM. This effort was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences as well as our own investment.

The MicroPEM sensor is directly applicable to a wide range of challenges, including occupational exposure assessment, indoor air quality research, and interventional health studies. Children as young as 6 years can wear the MicroPEM device comfortably. For those 5 and under, we have developed the Enhanced Children’s MicroPEM.

Because of its small, lightweight, and quiet form factor, the MicroPEM does not interfere with job duties—thus enabling representative measurements of occupational exposure throughout a work shift. Real-time PM exposure concentration and accelerometer data can be transmitted wirelessly to a worker, giving him or her instantaneous situational awareness of exposure risks in the workplace. By aggregating MicroPEM data transmitted to a central computer, researchers can create a complete spatial-temporal map of PM exposures across the workplace.

The MicroPEM was developed to help scientists collect accurate exposure data for populations of adults and children whose health is compromised by exposures to air pollutants.