Air monitoring technology firm eyes satellite data to target emissions

June 13, 2019

Scepter Air, which describes itself as an atmospheric intelligence company, is working to launch a satellite air pollution monitoring system that could exponentially reduce the costs of current monitoring technologies and provide new data to help regulators better track pollution while helping companies quickly detect potential violations.

Scepter Founder and CEO Philip Father recently told Inside EPA that the company has spoken with EPA staff about satellites’ potential for improving air monitoring. It is also working with California regulators in the Bay Area to combine data from existing ground sensors with other information, such as health effects data to better inform communities about risks from air pollution.

“If we’re successful we can do global real-time air pollution monitoring down to a city block,” Father says, adding that such capability could expand the reach of EPA and states’ enforcement while reducing manhours and cutting costs. By combining monitoring data with other information, such as wind or epidemiological data on occurrences of health effects, Father says the company can show how air pollution moves in the environment or better inform susceptible populations of days with heightened asthma risk.

Improved data monitoring also holds promise for helping companies lower enforcement liability for violations of emissions standards.

“This type of information can drastically lower your fines,” Father says. “If you know the same things as a regulatory body like the EPA, you can lower your cost structure over time.”

The potential for satellites and emerging data crunching technologies to revolutionize monitoring for air pollution comes on the heels of the Obama administration’s prioritizing EPA’s use of “next gen” monitoring techniques in enforcement, and as the Trump administration is seeking to improve efficiency at EPA while proposing to cut the agency’s budget by one third.

Father says the decreasing cost of satellite technology is creating the potential for space-based air pollution monitoring that, combined with emerging data techniques, could dramatically bolster EPA oversight at a lower cost.

“It would give EPA the power to have national oversight with a smaller body,” he says. “It’s happening at an interesting time where technology can take the baton and actually improve the regulatory outcome” while reducing costs.

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