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Worried about air quality? Check IQAir

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

It’s become a new obsession for many: wake up, look up at the sky, and decide whether or not it’s safe to venture outdoors.

After the Bobcat Fire broke out above Azusa on September 6, local skies turned an eerie orange-red, with the setting sun taking on an apocalyptic, almost science-fiction vibe.

The whole of the West Coast has essentially been an air quality wasteland since early September, resulting in newfound interest in previously niche elements of air quality measurement: ozone, particulate matter, fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, Sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, five of the measurements that make up the air quality index (AQI).

Suffice it to say those numbers have been predominantly dismal as of late.

According to IQAir, the world's largest free real-time air quality information platform, Monday and Tuesday’s AQI scores were “unhealthy for sensitive groups” at 114 and 107, respectively. Wednesday and Thursday were “moderate” at 95 and 62, and today was projected to be a “moderate” as well, with a reading of 63.

IQAir has 80,000-plus PM2.5 sensors located in communities around the world, the majority of them in the contiguous United States. They are hosted by a mix of private “citizen scientists” and governments. Most sensors are relatively inexpensive, at about $269 each. By contrast, some governments’ “regulatory monitors” can cost as much as $20,000.

There are five IQAir sensors in Claremont: at Table Mountain Observatory, San Benito Court, West Baughman Avenue, and two on Platt Boulevard.

The sensors take measurements at each station within a city, testing for ozone, particulate matter, fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, Sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, and combine those numbers to form an AQI score for each location. The readings are transmitted via wi-fi to IQAir’s servers, which then calculate an average of the five stations’ measurements to arrive at Claremont’s overall AQI. The numbers are updated throughout the day.

To see IQAir’s current Claremont air quality info, go to www.iqair.com/us/usa/california/claremont.

The company installed  sensors in Claremont as a direct result of it being named the best suburb in the West by Sunset Magazine in 2016, said IQAir’s North American CEO Glory Dolphin Hammes.

Ms. Dolphin Hammes said Southern California’s recent record breaking heatwave and wildfires and the associated poor air quality have combined to balloon the site’s popularity, but at a cost. 

 “We’ve seen a tremendous increase in website traffic” since the fires broke out in Southern California, she said. “Actually we’ve had so much website traffic that it was broken last week.”

After a server upgrade, the website is now equipped to withstand the increased demand.

IQAir’s mission is on its face philanthropic.

“We really feel that air quality data is something that people have a right to know, so we really want to make that available to folks because it will help them to make better daily choices,” Ms. Dolphin Hammes said.

The public service side of the company is geared toward improving conditions the world over, Ms. Hammes said.

“There are of course underserved communities throughout the world in which we want to get more air quality data so that it can help effectuate change,” Ms. Dolphin Hammes said. The areas of most concern are Africa, South America, parts of Central America and some areas within the Middle East, she said.

But it’s also a business, of course, selling high end air purifiers, HVAC-based air cleaning and air quality instruments. IQAir was founded in Germany in 1963 by brothers Manfred and Klaus Hammes.

They pioneered an air filter system for residential coal ovens aimed at reducing black dust build-up on the walls behind the appliances. It has about 500 employees worldwide, 150 of them in China. Dun and Bradstreet estimates the privately held company’s annual revenue at $15.28 million.

The global air purifier market size was estimated at $8 billion in 2019, according to industry analyst Grand View Research. With local Costcos and Targets recently sold out of air purifiers, one would expect that market to be in the midst of an expansion.

Ms. Dolphin Hammes is the spouse of co-founder Klaus Hammes’ son Frank, who is the global CEO of IQAir. Glory and Frank have been married 19 years as of last month, have two teenage children, and have lived on separate continents the entire time.

Interestingly, Mr. Hammes lives in Switzerland, and she in Southern California. They’ve made it work by flying back-and-forth, and usually spend about two weeks out of every month together on one continent or the other, Ms. Dolphin Hammes said.

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