(Image: © Josh Edelson / AFP)
Not only has the recent wildfire crisis throughout the American west had a devastating effect on the local environment and the people living in affected areas, but the effects have become wide-spread across the nation as weather patterns carry thick smoke outside of the immediate wildfire areas. As air quality plummets, a significant risk is posed to communities. In a scientific study by the Climate Central Organization, it was found that following the San Diego wildfires of 2007, emergency room diagnoses for respiratory syndrome went up by 25%, while asthma diagnoses doubled. During the 2003 California wildfires, pregnant women were noted to have lowered birth weights, and children were 2-4 times more likely to develop respiratory problems.
Unfortunately, the numbers suggest it’s likely to get worse: the Statesman Journal reports that throughout most of the 90s, Oregon wildfires destroyed an average of 198,000 acres. That number has increased to 433,541 acres in 15 years, with a whopping 650,000 average acres burned every year from 2012-2020. Shana Jones, Chief of California Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit, has suggested that the number is expected to grow: “Fire season is not a season anymore — it’s year-round.” As wildfires become larger and more calamitous, their impact on day-to-day life will only become more pronounced.
Americans now find themselves checking the air quality report daily, a new and unfortunate addition to their daily routine alongside checking the traffic report and local weather conditions. There’s no shortage of websites and apps that look up air particulate, but sadly only a precious few services yield satisfactory results.
The issue stems from the way many of these services track air quality: they rely on the data provided by the infrequently updated, few and far between government sensors. Thus, the sensor nearest to your zip code is likely to be nowhere near your actual location, yielding inaccurate results. Between the two giants of air quality reporting, PurpleAir.com and AirNow.gov, only PurpleAir provides real-time information from a vast network of sensors.
Enter Purple Turtle by Digamma.ai. Using a Google Assistant-enabled device (like most Android smartphones or any of the Google Home assistant speakers) a PurpleAir quality measurement is available for free, using only your voice. To get instant particle pollution reading on any Google Assistant-enabled device, simply say:
“OK Google, Talk to Purple Turtle”
Your Purple Turtle reading utilizes a far more extensive network of sensors compared to other leading air quality measurement services. It calculates air quality using sensors within 3 miles of your location, avoiding incorrect air quality measurements. Purple Turtle also removes outliers (sensors with readings that are significantly different) when calculating readings, allowing the app to automatically exclude broken or malfunctioning sensors.
As an example, contrast the Air Quality sensor information for the San Francisco area between the EPA’s AirNow mapping, and mapping provided by PurpleAir’s numerous sensors:
Previously, PurpleAir monitors tended to yield larger air quality index (AQI) values than Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors (like those used by AirNow) when measuring wood smoke. Digamma.ai’s Purple Turtle employs an advanced “Smoke Correction” algorithm developed by EPA scientists to correct potentially-inaccurate readings correlated with accumulations of wood smoke, ensuring an accurate measurement every time. The smoke correction is enabled by default, but can be turned off (“OK Google, ask Purple Turtle turn off smoke”).
In a hurry? Talking to Purple Turtle via Google Assistant also has an optional “Brief Mode” which, when enabled, returns shorter, single-sentence air quality readings. To enable brief mode, simply say “OK Google, ask Purple Turtle to turn on Brief Mode.” Once enabled, any time you ask to talk to Purple Turtle, you’ll be able to get a quick measurement of the air quality in your immediate location. To return to the standard Purple Turtle reading style, simply ask Purple Turtle to turn off Brief Mode.
Purple Turtle always remembers your location for stationary devices, such as Smart Display or Google Home Smart Speaker, but it does not do so on mobile devices unless specifically requested. Users can say “OK Google, ask Purple Turtle to remember location for 3 hours” to allow the app to not require permission to update your location from Google during the specified time-period.
With plans in place to develop support for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant software, Digamma.ai’s Purple Turtle is one of the easiest and most accurate ways to keep up-to-date on air quality. While taking proper precautions informed by a reliable air quality monitoring service is an important step, it is important for everyone to educate themselves on proper safety and fire prevention measures in and outside of high risk areas.