Chemist partners with City of Kitchener on innovative air pollution study

It’s not every day a chemist gets to directly affect government policy. So Wilfrid Laurier University chemistry Professor Hind Al-Abadleh, MCIC, is understandably excited about her school-based air pollution study in Kitchener.

Al-Abadleh launched a pilot air-quality monitoring project earlier in 2020 in partnership with the city and Hemmera Envirochem Inc. She and her team installed low-cost sensor systems close to public schools to collect air pollution data that will be used to inform the city’s climate action plan.

“Kitchener is very aware of the necessity of having data on which to formulate policy, but it only has one provincial air quality station,” says Al-Abadleh, chair of the CIC’s Environment Division. “It has idling bylaws, but how do you know if they’re effective unless you have data on air pollution in areas where the bylaws are enforced?”

If her findings show pollution hotspots, her work might also influence transit routes as the city tries to improve neighbourhood-level air quality.

Earlier this month, Al-Abadleh received a funding boost from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Exceptional Opportunities Fund. The extra $200,000 means she can buy and permanently install air-quality sensors – which had been rented for the pilot project – and secure equipment for atmospheric particle analysis.  These sensors measure levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

With the help of her newly-purchased Micro-Orifice Uniform Deposit Impactors, a Particle into Liquid Sampler and an Ultrasonic Levitator, Al-Abadleh and her team will not only analyze the particles for chemical composition and reactivity, but also for biological activity.

Al-Abadleh expects much of what she collects will come from the tail pipes of diesel-powered school buses and gas-powered cars as parents drop off their children. She hopes to have results to share with the city by the end of the year.