Watchdog highlights limitations to air quality sensors

By Rebekah Alvey | 03/19/2024 04:20 PM EDT

The report lays out options for improving transparency and reliability of portable air monitoring devices.

Air quality monitors installed at a house.

Air quality monitors are seen at the home of retirees Bob and Darlene Williamson in Jefferson County, Ohio, on Aug. 23, 2022. Francis Chung/POLITICO

Low-cost air quality sensors can be important tools in filling gaps in national air pollution monitoring, but they don’t capture some air toxics data, a Government Accountability Office report found.

On a national level, there is an ambient air monitoring system, but it can miss pollution in rural areas and at local scales, according to the report released Tuesday. Low-cost and portable devices can be beneficial in supplementing this information.

The sensors can be used to identify pollution hot spots and to improve wildfire smoke warnings. Though more complex and advanced sensors exist, low-cost options can still be useful for scientific research.


State and federal policy and public interest in air pollution have led to increased use of the devices. The Inflation Reduction Act and American Rescue Plan, for example, provided millions to community air monitoring projects, many of which plan to use these sensors.