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ICYMI: Major March air quality news

The fight against air pollution is being waged on multiple fronts. As researchers study pollution trends and how airborne particles affect health, engineers are devising ingenious devices that clean our air and make our cities and town more liveable. Here are their best discoveries and inventions from March:

A Lofty Solution
On the heels of a scathing report detailing London’s rising air pollution, a team has concocted a scheme to both monitor air quality and raise awareness. Last month, CNN reports, DigitasLBI and Plume Labs fitted a flock of pigeons with tiny backpacks containing GPS radios and pollution sensors, which monitor (and tweet out) nitrogen, ozone, and volatile organic compounds levels. The birds completed a three-day monitoring run, sending quite a few tweets in the process.

Pre-term Problems
A new study from New York University’s Langone Medical Center estimates that air pollution contributes to 16,000 premature births every year in the U.S. Previous studies have shown that polluted air causes stress to pregnant women’s placentas. The pre-term babies, many of whom are born with physical and mental disabilities, endure extended hospital stays and long-term medication use—sometimes at great cost.

All-Seeing Eyes
Nothing escapes a camera, including, it turns out, industrial gas leaks. Recently, The Houston Chronicle reports, the Environmental Protection Agency began arming state and federal inspectors with infrared cameras that can detect small leaks, which can release harmful amounts of ozone, methane, and volatile organic compounds into the air. Already, inspectors have discovered leaks at a Colorado facility, which was fined and ordered to repair its tanks.

Gear Shift
Imagine a future without diesel engines. That’s the vision of the Dearman Engine Company, who last month began road tests of a liquid-nitrogen-powered engine. According to the company’s test, the device decreased nitrogen oxide emissions by 73 percent and the amount of dirt spit out by a vehicle’s exhaust by 93 percent, The Telegraph reports. Soon, Dearman will begin commercial trials of its engines on refrigerated vehicles in Europe.

Office Supply
Soot released from mufflers and chimneys looks pretty nasty, but there may be a practical use for the icky substance. MIT graduate Anirudh Sharma and his team at Kaalink have devised a rudimentary method to capture soot—actually unburned carbon—and combine it with oil and alcohol to make a viable, cheap, and safe alternative to printer ink. In the future, Sharma hopes to build a device that captures the carbon directly from a car’s tailpipe, City Labs reports.

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