“Although air quality in the Nordics is much better compared to other cities in the world, we find that even a small amount of pollution in the air affects our health. For this reason, it’s important that the Nordic countries make it a priority to have air that is as clean as possible,” says Núria Castell, who’s leading the research project Nordic participatory, healthy and people-centred cities (NordicPATH), which is funded by NordForsk.
In Kristiansand (Norway), Gothenburg (Sweden), Aalborg (Denmark), and Lappeenranta (Finland), researchers are measuring air quality in close co-operation with the city’s inhabitants. The aim is to find out what the air quality is like and whether steps should be taken to make the air cleaner.
Residents play a key role
A small air measuring device has been developed for the project, which can be attached to a bicycle. When residents cycle to and from work, or make a trip to the grocery store, the device measures the air quality on their journey. The data that’s collected is automatically sent to the researchers. Another measuring device developed by the project can be plugged into a socket to collect data on the air around people’s properties. This data is also sent to the researchers, giving them a huge amount of information at their fingertips.
Both devices have been put to use by volunteer residents from the four Nordic cities mentioned above. Núria is keen to emphasise just how important the help of residents has been for the results of the research:
“The involvement of residents has been a real boon for science and is key to the success of the project, because it’s given us the opportunity to measure the air in areas that would otherwise have been difficult for us to access. The residents’ measurements provide us with a huge amount of data that we couldn’t have obtained otherwise. The involvement of residents also benefits the municipalities, because it builds trust in the research and in municipal governance. At the same time, it’s an excellent way to promote sustainability, because we get everyone on board, both residents and the authorities.”
Municipality installs new sustainable wood-burning stoves
Sustainable solutions have been the focus for Kristiansand, one of the cities participating in the project. Here, the municipality has taken steps to improve the city’s air quality. Measurements from the devices showed that air quality was below the recommended level in several locations. This was due, among other things, to the wood-burning stoves that many households use.
“In the winter, there are periods when the temperature is so low over several days that air pollution in some areas of the city has reached high levels. This has been evidenced by the residents’ air monitoring sensors. The burning of wood is one of the main causes of the elevated levels of airborne dust. The cold winter weather, combined with us spending more time at home and increasing electricity prices, have contributed to people burning more wood and high levels of pollution as a result,” explains Núria.
Therefore, old wood-burning stoves have been replaced with new and more sustainable versions, which do not pollute the air to the same extent. Residents have also been taught how to use the firewood more efficiently. This has been done in consultation with the local fire service, which has held workshops for residents on the initiative of the municipality and the authorities.
In Kristiansand, one benefit of the research project has also been the establishment of good dialogue between residents and the municipality. The data collected by residents is helping to shape policy for the city as a whole.
In the three other cities in the project, the results from the air measurements are not yet at a stage that they can be translated into concrete measures.
Facts and figures: Wood burning in Kristiansand
Below are three infographics showing 1) the citizens' perceptions of wood burning in Kristiansand, 2) how wood burning harms human health and 3) what can be done to avoid health issues related to wood burning.