Plan for light installation that changes colour to reveal toxic air levels across Sheffield

Clean Air for Sheffield is on the hunt for a prime public space to host its lighting installation that shows levels of toxic air across the city in real time.

Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 9:46 am
Updated Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 9:46 am

Since Graham Turnbull founded Clean Air for Sheffield in 2017, he has built more than 100 air quality monitors across Sheffield which he said is now more than any city in the UK.

He came up with the idea to connect the network to colour-changing light bulbs with the aim of raising awareness and sparking discussions about air pollution.

He said: “What I wanted to do was make a huge physical indicator of air quality in Sheffield.

The return of the FreeBee has widespread, cross-party support, according to Graham Turnbull, of Clean Air Sheffield.

“I had this idea that I wanted to take forty or fifty of these (lights) and put them in a very public place that people could walk into.”

A prototype has already been built. All should be blue but change colour when any PM2.5 is detected in the air by the sensors, this is on a scale that goes through green, yellow, red and purple as air pollution increases.

Mr Turnbull said working out how to do it was easy but finding a home for the display has been challenging.

He approached places including Sheffield Train Station, Sheffield Children’s Hospital and Ikea but nowhere has yet committed.

A light installation is planned for Sheffield.

He said: “The people who were most interested were Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

“Imagine you show up there with your child who is having breathing difficulties and you look up at the ceiling and go ‘oh my god, all the lights are purple, what does that mean?’ and it’s because the air quality is really bad. Then you might think ‘every time I come here (I can see that) air quality is bad’ and then you might say to your doctor ‘maybe there is a connection between air quality and my child’s health’.”

But he said it has been difficult to progress the project due to Covid-19 and in some cases, fear that highlighting air pollution will scare people away although his own experience of raising awareness has led people to take positive action.

Air pollution is contributing to 500 deaths a year in Sheffield and like other cities, it has been in breach of legal limits for air pollution for more than a decade.