New U.S. air-quality app helps users avoid pollution

The new U.S. Department of State app, ZephAir, provides updates about air quality around the world. (State Dept.)
The new U.S. Department of State app, ZephAir, provides updates about air quality around the world. (State Dept.)

The United States is helping people protect themselves from dangerous pollution with a new mobile phone app that provides accurate, up-to-date information on air quality in dozens of cities worldwide.

The U.S. Department of State recently launched ZephAir, a mobile app that brings users a mix of air-quality data and health advisories. Users may adjust settings to receive alerts of air-quality changes and to view daily or weekly data.

The app, which is available for download at the Apple and Google Play stores, connects users with air monitoring sites at more than 70 U.S. embassies, consulates or partner organizations in dozens of countries that track and disseminate air-quality data.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing began monitoring and reporting on the city’s air quality in 2008, eventually prompting China’s government to strengthen air-quality monitoring standards.

The ZephAir app shows the air quality in Abidjan. (State Dept.)

Air pollution is a leading cause of death worldwide and increases the risk of asthma and cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke. A recent study suggests that air pollution caused 6.7 million deaths worldwide in 2019.

Many countries have improved air quality in recent decades. In the United States, air quality management policies and technology improvements led to a 39% drop in fine particulate matter, the pollutant with the largest health impact, from 2000 to 2018, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Now the ZephAir app allows citizens of other countries to share in that success. Through ZephAir, users can connect to the EPA’s Air Quality Index, which has color-coded grades that rate air quality, and see recommendations for reducing exposure to air pollution at their location.

The United States developed the ZephAir app, in part, because reliable, real-time air-quality data is hard to find in many places. Future versions of the app will add data from additional cities, as well as satellite data and forecasting tools.