A Breath of Fresh Air

By Dustin Renwick

Some of my friends love the scent of exhaust, but I wrinkle my nose at every junker car’s invisible comet tail of unpleasant fumes.

They’ve told me it’s sweet. I think it stinks.

Yet I’ve never considered how those odors might affect my health.

From this starting block, EPA joined with the Department of Health and Human Services to advance the exploration of technologies that collect data for our bodies and our surroundings.

Entrepreneurs and innovative solvers around the country submitted designs for portable monitors that link measurements of the air we breathe with metrics for how our bodies react to that air.

The My Air, My Health Challenge announced four finalists last week. Each team or individual will receive $15,000 and develop a working model to test the proposed systems. One winner will be chosen in June and will get $100,000.

Other government agencies have also begun to address this type of personalized healthcare. The Department of Defense will soon explore plans for an application to track wellness in service members.

Current technologies allow people to measure how far they run or how many calories they burned on a walk.

The leap isn’t far to imagine a near-term future where customized health data also includes metrics for air pollutants and our physiological reactions to them.

Until then, I’ll hold my breath.

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.