Louisville, Kentucky, is world-renowned for the best horse racing, bourbon whiskey, and baseball bats. Recently, however, they also became infamously known for their poor air quality. Pollution is only becoming a bigger threat to human health, and some cities are adapting better than others. Air Louisville, a community program that uses digital health technology to improve asthma, recently set out to learn just how toxic the city is for breathing disorders, and what, if anything, can be done to fix it.

“Louisville, Kentucky, is one of the worst places to live in the United States if you have a breathing disorder,” said Ted Smith, the city’s former chief innovation officer.

Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville, Kentucky

In 2015, Air Louisville discovered over 1,000 citizens suffering from either asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and enrolled them in their program. They were able to attach inobtrusive sensors (made by Propeller Health) to each of the subjects’ inhalers that, through an app on their smartphones, relay to Air Louisville exactly when and where the inhaler was used. This is relevant information to the company because someone suffering from this disease is more likely to use their inhaler when their symptoms flare up — which could be caused by an increased concentration in air pollution.

After collecting millions of data points, they were able to create a heat map displaying areas of concentrated pollution, which in turn allowed them to pinpoint the worst areas in the city. By targeting specific locations with poor air quality, they were able to initiate a massive, city-wide effort to change policy, in addition to creating public awareness surrounding the issue.

The city has since become more conscious of how it should write and apply transportation policy (such as rerouting trucks around these areas instead of through them), created new zoning laws to prevent future emissions, and planted more trees in these targeted locations.

Asthma

After applying these methods, the average inhaler-user saw a staggering 82 percent reduction in asthma and COPD symptoms. For people who depend on these — sometimes very costly — remedies for their overall health and well-being, this development is huge.

With the success of the initiative, Louisville has taken itself out of the running as the most polluted city in the country while also working hard to share this technology with other cities to try to improve the lives of citizens from coast to coast.

“I feel better about the world,” said Dawn Sirek, an asthma sufferer and local nurse who has been witnessing the effects of pollution for years. “There are good people trying to do good things, and that’s what Louisville is about.”


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