Traffic, Pollution, and Your Brain: The Alarming Truth You Need to Know

Wilson Chua
3 min readMay 18

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In a bustling world filled with technological marvels and urban landscapes, we often overlook the hidden dangers that surround us. One such silent menace is the presence of high levels of air pollution. Measuring pollution via the levels of PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter) alerts us to the significant risks to both our physical well-being and cognitive function.

As the haze of uncertainty engulfs us, it’s time to shed light on this invisible threat that lurks in the air we breathe. Moreover, the deployment of Arduino-based sensors, coupled with the power of Google live traffic data, presents an innovative approach to understanding and combating this issue.

The Health Implications:
High levels of PM2.5 have been linked to an array of detrimental health effects. (See Link for impact on Asthma and Cardio Vascular disease). Fortunately with the deployment of Arduino-based sensors, we can collect real-time data on PM2.5 concentrations at various locations. These sensors provide a cost-effective and reliable means of monitoring air quality, enabling us to identify pollution hotspots and assess the health risks associated with them more accurately.

Together with BNSHosting.net Interns from ISAP, we deployed 7 sensors around Dagupan City. The deployments were supported by Barangay chiefs, Public School Principals, Dagupan City Health Office and various private companies.

Sensor locations coded by color and height to represent PM 2.5 levels.

The Cognitive Consequences:
In addition to the health implications, Arduino-based sensors also offer a unique opportunity to delve into the cognitive consequences of high PM2.5 levels. By correlating the collected PM2.5 data with Google live traffic data, we can gain insights into how traffic patterns impact air quality. (See traffic chart below):

Google Live traffic (slow traffic in red) at 6:45 am with Red Pin showing the location of Air Sensor at Caranglaan Brgy Hall

And then we cross reference that with the collected 24 hour air quality data. We show a sample chart from the same sensor :

Current 24 hour measures (Dark Blue) with previous period comparison (light blue)

While this is early days for us, the preliminary result shows a positive correlation between the traffic and the high levels of PM 2.5. Studies have shown that vehicular emissions significantly contribute to PM2.5 levels. With this innovative approach, we now better understand the relationship between traffic congestion and pollution, and how it affects cognitive function in areas exposed to high PM2.5 concentrations. Hint: High pollution lowers cognitive performance. Aka. nakaka bobo.

Harnessing Technology:
Due to the lower cost, Arduino-based sensors empowers communities to actively monitor their surroundings and take necessary precautions. We don’t have to be blind to air pollution. These sensors, equipped with PM2.5 measurement capabilities, can be easily deployed in various locations, including schools, residential areas, and workplaces. By combining this localized data with Google live traffic data, we can even develop a comprehensive understanding of pollution sources and their impact on air quality.

Data-driven Insights:
The integration of Arduino-based sensors with Google live traffic data generates valuable insights that can inform public health policies and urban planning. We can supply weekly aggregated charts (max levels per hour) for Dagupan City’s officials for planning purposes:

Typical hours when PM 2.5 are highest (2 week data)

Governments and city authorities can utilize this data to identify pollution hotspots, implement targeted interventions, and promote sustainable transportation alternatives. By reducing traffic congestion and optimizing transportation infrastructure, we can strive for improved air quality and ultimately protect the cognitive well-being of individuals within these communities.

As usual, please continue the conversation with me on my twitter page: https://twitter.com/wilsonchua I’d love to hear back from you.

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Wilson Chua

Data Analyst, Startup Founder, Tech Columnist