ORONO, Maine — A new interactive Web tool developed by climate researchers at the University of Maine allows users to punch in a ZIP code to learn about their neighborhood’s air quality.
Called 10Green, the free tool spits out a score for a given location based on 10 air quality measures, including levels of particulates, heavy metals and greenhouse gases. The measures represent some of the most serious threats to human health, according to Paul Mayewski, director of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute.
“Just as you want to know your credit score or your cholesterol level, we’d like to convince people this is an important part of their lifestyle,” he said.
Users type in their zip code or the name of their community and 10Green assigns a score from zero, at the unhealthy end, to 10, the ideal ranking.
“Nobody gets a 10,” Mayewski said, because a sharp rise in greenhouse gases over the last century affects nearly every ecosystem. “Areas that are a seven on our system are doing really, really well.”
The tool also will compare two communities against each other.
10Green uses the strictest health standards for each air quality measure, incorporating guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, World Health Organization and others.
The Web tool goes beyond similar websites by allowing users to dig into each individual air quality measure, Mayewski said. It also spells out the quality of a community’s air over time and the health implications of the score.
Particulates, for example, play a critical role in respiratory disease, Mayewski said.
Levels of certain chemicals in the atmosphere, such as sulfur and nitrogen compounds, have risen dramatically in recent decades, he said. But researchers’ goal with 10Green is not to scare people with that reality, Mayewski said.
The aim is to educate users about why air quality measures are changing and the potential health hazards so they can make informed decisions about where they choose to live, he said.
10Green is a product of the institute’s research into climate change, which is founded on analysis of atmospheric clues frozen into ice cores drilled from glaciers. It was developed with help from two graduate students and one undergraduate student, along with faculty members.
The online tool marks an opportunity to translate that research into information that helps people to understand the implications of air pollution and complex changes in the Earth’s climate, Mayewski said.
10Green will be developed into a free smartphone application this summer, he said.
The result of a two-year-long effort, 10Green is a collaboration among the Climate Change Institute, UMaine’s School of Computing and Information Sciences, and Portland marketing firm Garrand. Funding was provided in part by The Heinz Endowments, UMaine, The National Science Foundation, Garrand and the UMaine Development Office.