New app will allow New Yorkers to avoid commuting through the poorest air quality

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(NEW YORK) — For those who need to commute when air quality is poor, a new technology will make it possible to use the safest route possible for their health.

Airways, a new map–based app launched on Monday at the start of Climate Week NYC, will provide routes with the cleanest air for those traveling within New York City.

Air quality in major cities has been worsening in recent decades for various reasons, including additional pollution from growing populations as well as climate change-related impacts, such as an increase in large wildfires and seasons with higher pollen counts, Purvi Parikh, allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Health, told ABC News.

Air pollution is the fourth-leading cause of death globally, accounting for nearly 7 million deaths in 2019, according to research conducted by State of Global Air, which publishes a report card on air pollution exposures and their impacts on human health.

Constant exposure to air pollution increases inflammation in the body, and can cause short-term symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion, headaches, shortness of breath, coughing and skin irritation, Parikh said.

Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, very young or pregnant women, and those with pre-existing populations like asthma, chronic lung or heart disease or allergies could suffer on days when air quality is poor, Parikh said. Taking alternate routes could prevent the symptoms from exacerbating.

“They can prioritize their health by choosing those routes with cleaner air,” she said.

In addition, those who are concerned about traveling when air quality is poor should limit their time outside to what is absolutely necessary and wearing a medical grade mask, like N95 or kn95 masks, Parikh said. If possible, they should also run a HEPA air purifier indoors.

The user-friendly map highlights the intersections between air pollution and pollen along city routes, providing information to users that essentially identifies a cleaner-air commuting route, as well as the routes to avoid.

After entering the start and end destination, the tool populates the lowest pollution route based on the real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) and levels of common pollens, such as ash, grass and ragweed. Users can then populate the cleanest route into their Google Map or Apple Map to navigate to their destination.

“It’s as simple as if you want to walk from one point to the other or want a bike from one point to the other,” Jaideep Singh, co-founder at Ambee, told ABC News.

The app, a partnership between environmental intelligence agency Ambee and Allegra, the allergy medicine company, is launching the beta platform in New York City this week and will continue to roll the technology to locations throughout the U.S. in 2024, Singh said.

The creators behind Airways believe the technology will empower people to prioritize their health by choosing routes with the cleanest air.

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