Approximately 80% of diseases are caused by exposure to external factors. These factors include a wide range of emissions of harmful substances, such as various types of particulate matter, ultrafine particles and ozone. TNO, together with knowledge institutes and the government, is investigating the effects of these emissions with the aid of sensor networks, within the exposome programme.
The concept of 'exposome' refers to the total exposure of a human being to emissions during his or her entire life. An important challenge is to map the air quality on an individual level. TNO provides insight into this air quality by setting up large-scale sensor networks together with industry, public authorities, citizens and knowledge institutes.
The use of citizen science, in which citizens participate by providing data, offers TNO access to large amounts of information. We use this data for our models in order to then make the information available via apps and websites, among other things. This makes it possible to identify emissions from industry at an early stage and, in the event of a calamity, to issue real-time warnings and predict effects. Moreover, together with citizens, we can measure the air quality in a city and devise measures to improve that air quality and thus health.
In Eindhoven, for example, we are working in a large consortium (RIVM, GGD, Utrecht University and AiREAS) together with surrounding municipalities and the province on the Innovative Air Measurement Network (ILM). What is the state of air quality in Eindhoven? Which aspects influence this and to what extent does it affect human health? And what can we do to improve local health? Certainly in view of how Eindhoven is growing, policymakers want to include the most healthy options in the municipality's design.
For example, one of the causes of poorer air quality is traffic. In order to improve the situation, local authorities may decide to divert traffic or reduce speed. Or think of giving citizens personal advice about the fastest, shortest and healthiest cycle route to work. Apply the considerable amount of sensor data makes it possible to offer this advice in real time. These different perspectives of action for citizens will ultimately help to organise the city in the healthiest possible way.
Citizens are offered the advice and information digitally, for example via apps that the business community will develop. An important point of attention in TNO's research is privacy and the question of what is the best way to feedback and disseminate the processed data. At the moment, we are already able to map out the air quality in a specific area on the basis of sensor data.