Pigeon patrol tracks air pollution in London – CBS News

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Meet the most unlikely agents in the fight against air pollution — pigeons. On Monday, a small flock of pigeons were strapped with pollution-sensing backpacks and sent out into the skies of London for three days to monitor the city’s air pollution levels.

The backpacks are designed to monitor levels of nitrogen dioxide and ozone gases produced by diesel cars, trucks, and buses that spew out exhaust all over the city, The Guardian reports. Then this information is tweeted out to through the Twitter account @PigeonAir to raise awareness about the negative impact of air pollution on a city like London.

“It is a scandal. It is a health and environmental scandal for humans — and pigeons,” Pierre Duquesnoy, who won a London Design Festival award for this project in 2015, told The Guardian. “We’re making the invisible visible.”

The pigeon patrol was created by Plume Labs, a company that produces air quality reports, in partnership with the marketing agency DigitasLBi and Twitter.

Duquesnoy said that while Beijing often makes headlines for its air pollution levels, there are days when “pollution was higher and more toxic in London.”

Looking something like a team of avian ghostbusters with their high-tech backpacks, the birds’ mission ends Wednesday when they return to their London home base.

“There’s something about taking what is seen as a flying rat and reversing that into something quite positive,” Duquesnoy added.

So far, the readings have shown areas of the city fluctuating between moderate and high pollution levels.

Gary Fuller, an air quality expert at King’s College London, found the idea of pollution-sensing pigeons important in pointing out a serious public health and environmental concern.

“It’s great that unemployed pigeons from Trafalgar Square are being put to work,” he told The Guardian. “Around 15 years ago tests were done on around 150 stray dogs in Mexico City, showing the ways in which air pollution was affecting lungs and heart health. But this is the first time that I’ve heard of urban wild animals being used to carry sensors to give us a picture of the air pollution over our heads.”

Following this week’s pigeon patrol, the next phase in the project will recruit 100 human volunteers for a beta test of people-friendly wearable pollution monitors.

Pigeon patrol tracks air pollution in London – CBS News