Infrared technology is deployed on the streets of London to show air pollution that can't be seen by the naked eye. Matthew Stock reports.
The soot-filled skies of Britain's industrial past have thankfully long since disappeared. But invisible toxic fumes are still a major cause for concern. This advanced infrared camera reveals the pollutants the human eye can't see. SOUNDBITE (English) ANDREAS ZINSSMEISTER, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER FOR OPTICAL GAS IMAGING AT FLIR, SAYING: "What we recognised is that we have the ability to make you see the invisible. Today, when we look to the newspaper, everyone is talking about reduction of emissions, reduction of CO2 emissions, but it's not possible to see with the human eye. So we recognise that our technology is capable of making that visible to help you get awareness of that so important topic." Cameras like this are normally used in industry to check for CO2 leaks But it can also show concentrations of pollutants and how they spread from the source into the air. SOUNDBITE (English) ANDREAS ZINSSMEISTER, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER FOR OPTICAL GAS IMAGING AT FLIR, SAYING: "You start with a grey-scale image, and then you can flip through different scales; each scale enhancing different scenes and also highlighting some contrasts." The World Health Organisation recently linked air pollution to millions of premature deaths globally. Physically seeing where toxic fumes linger could be invaluable to public health, say experts. SOUNDBITE (English) MARTIN WILLIAMS, PROFESSOR OF AIR QUALITY AT KINGS COLLEGE, SAYING: "The problem is that these days pollution is invisible largely, not like it was in the 50s and 60s when not only could you see it, you could see very little else. These days, getting the message across to the public is more difficult because they can't actually see the pollution as they could before, so technologies that help people to visualise these things are really going to help to get the message across." This camera model costs about 75,000 dollars. But as smartphones become ever-more advanced, the makers say a similar technology could before long help us all identify pollution hotspots. Until then, experts say moving even just a few feet away from the source of the fumes will see your exposure levels significantly reduced.