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Google Maps’ study of air pollution areas can help you avoid toxic roads

Have you ever used Google Maps’ Street View to take a virtual tour of foreign countries? You can “visit” some pretty amazing places. Or, use this feature to travel back in time!

However, Street View isn’t all fun and games. In 2015, Google cars began collecting data on air pollution levels in Oakland, CA. They recently released the results of this mobile study.

The goal of the study was to map out, block by block, the air pollution levels in west Oakland. They were specifically measuring the amount of black carbon, nitric oxide, and nitrogen dioxide, all of which can lead to health problems and harm the environment.

According to an article about the study: “Resulting maps of annual daytime NO, NO2, and black carbon at 30 m-scale reveal stable, persistent pollution patterns with surprisingly sharp small-scale variability attributable to local sources, up to 5–8× within individual city blocks.” On the map below, darker roads indicate a higher density of pollutants.

Several agencies, including the Environmental Defense Fund, worked together to collect this data. Two Google Street View cars were equipped with environmental sensors made by Aclima. Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin designed a systemic driving plan to make sure each area was covered equally and at different times of day.

Members of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) are hoping that these results will spark change. Detrimental city planning, such as building playgrounds and houses built near the industrial plants, is a big part of the problem. Watch the video below to hear from WOEIP and the other agencies that made this research possible.

This isn’t the first time that Google has partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund. Back in 2014, their cars in Boston, Indianapolis, and Staten Island had methane gas sensors. They were detecting gas leaks to encourage the gas companies to fix them. Methane leaks can cause explosions, accelerate global warming and waste money.

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