Strawberry plants to measure air quality in Spanish city of Zaragoza

In Zaragoza, the Ibercivis Foundation has launched a fairly unique initiative to create a map of the city's air quality and measure its pollution parameters. Thousands of strawberry plants have become perfect biometric elements that will measure the amount of heavy metals in suspension and, therefore, the city's air quality.

The project, called Vigilantes del Cierzo, is a copy of the one carried out some time ago in the Belgian city of Antwerp. In fact, a first phase was already implemented in Zaragoza in 2017, but now, in 2019, thanks to the collaboration of the Government of Aragon, this second round has counted with the participation of more than 1,500 people.

Each person or family that owns a plant must follow a very specific instruction: to place it on the windowsill of one of their windows or on their terraces for a few months. Then, they will have to cut a few samples and send them in an envelope to the Foundation's headquarters, which will, in turn, send them to the laboratory. This will analyze them and the results will become available before the end of the year.

As reflected in the technical report of Ibercivis, strawberry plants are greatly suited for this type of experiments, since their leaves are easily impregnated with airborne particles, as they feature numerous hairs in which pollutants of less than 10 microns easily adhere by biomagnetism.

Two years ago, the analysis of the plants made it possible to detect the existence of ferromagnetic particles in the leaves. These came from various sources of environmental pollution, including road traffic, public works, industry smoke or the friction of the tram convoys with the rails on which they circulate. Eventually, 33% of the samples taken in 2017 had low magnetization values, while 16% of them had high values. The average value of ferromagnetic particles (SIRM) was 72.55 (μA), with the highest being 650 (μA).

One of the main conclusions of the study was that in the city of Zaragoza, SIRM values ​​were significantly higher in areas with heavy traffic and near the trams.

Daniel Lisbona, head of Communication at Fundación Ibercivis, also said that bringing science closer to the people can be one of the most effective ways for society to start raising its awareness about, for example "the circular economy" or "environment issues."



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