Case Study: Leveraging PurpleAir to Empower Local Governments

Air Quality in Northwest Territories

How One Government is Building a More Expansive Air Quality Network

  • Topic: Government 
  • Author: Adrian Dybwad 
  • Website: 
  • Industry: Technology, Government, Community 


No one breathes in the same air. A busy highway, for example, contains more air pollutants than a home in a small town. And it doesn’t stop there—air quality also changes with time. Weekdays on a highway, for example, will usually have worse vehicular pollution than on weekends.  

Despite this, many local governments, like the Northwest Territories of Canada, don’t have sufficient tools to monitor air quality in real-time and at a hyper-local level. In return, they experience significant data gaps, limiting their abilities to implement effective local policies. Not only that, but it can also lead to inaccurate government-issued public air quality warnings.  

As a solution, the government of Northwest Territories turned to new technology that’s becoming more readily available. Low-cost air quality monitors can help them expand their air quality network and record more aggregated data without putting a strain on their limited budget.   

Today, we’re discussing how the government of Northwest Territories of Canada leveraged PurpleAir air quality monitors. By using them, they can upgrade their air quality warnings and develop better data-driven policies.  

Current Air Quality of the Northwest Territories  

Spanning an estimated 442,000 square miles, the Northwest Territories (NWT) is surrounded by expansive forests and natural landscapes. Because of that, the region absorbs more carbon dioxide than it emits 

However, this also means that NWT is subject to frequent wildfires, causing hazardous levels of air pollution. In fact, the 2022 NWT State of the Environment Report found that wildfires are the region’s primary drivers of air pollution. These wildfires then release dangerous toxins into the air, including particulate matter (PM2.5).   

PM2.5 is so minuscule (30x smaller than a human hair) that it can penetrate your body’s defenses and directly penetrate your lungs. As a result, it can cause cardiovascular, pulmonary, and neurological diseases. It’s also known to contribute to over 4 million deaths each year.   

Next to wildfires, mineral mining and gas and oil extraction are the second sources of air pollution in the Northwest Territories. Although these industrial activities are far from the communities, there is still a need to monitor pollution at a localized level.  

The Air Quality Network in Northwest Territories Today

Currently, there are only 5 Federal Equivalent Method (FEM) air quality stations to cover all 30 communities of NWT. These monitors are located in:  

  1. Inuvik  
  2. Norman Wells  
  3. Fort Smith  
  4. Yellowknife  
  5. Fort Simpson 

While these monitors give a general overview of the particulate matter levels in their locations, they still don’t paint a comprehensive picture. As such, the NWT government lacks the necessary data to:  

  • Accurately identify the sources of air pollution  
  • Develop community-specific air pollution policies  
  • Determine the effectiveness of their current policies  
  • Issue immediate public warnings on high levels of air pollution 

But why do they lack air quality monitors to do all that? Well, that’s because it costs approximately $25,000. Plus, it requires technical expertise as operating and maintaining it is complex. All of these go beyond the resources of a small government.  

However, with the advancements in air quality technology, the government of NWT now has the opportunity to boost its air quality data at a lower cost.   

How PurpleAir is Filling Air Quality Data Gaps  

Evaluated by AQ-SPEC and favored by researchers, PurpleAir air quality monitors are low-cost and provide hyper-local, real-time data. Its monitoring capabilities are so accurate that South Coast AQMD noted a 97% correlation among FEM/FRM air quality monitors for PM2.5 concentrations.  

Knowing this, the NWT government began its air quality monitoring program and invested in 35 PurpleAir air quality monitors. Through the project, they hope to have at least one per community, allowing them to expand their network.  

In return, the government can create more community-specific policies and regulations that improve the air quality in their region. Additionally, the University of British Columbia used the data to build a Northwest Territories air quality map. This will help residents make more informed decisions on protecting themselves from harmful pollutants.  

Since launching in September last year, the Northwest Territories’ air quality program has grown significantly. Program manager, Imran Maqsood, holds high hopes for the outcome, saying, "We are trying to fill the gap we have in the territory, to help communities make decisions about when the air quality is bad." 

About PurpleAir 

Since being founded in 2018, PurpleAir has dedicated itself to providing highly precise air quality monitors that track hyper-local air quality levels in real time. In doing this, PurpleAir is empowering community scientists and helping to facilitate social change through accessible air quality data for all. By working together, everyone is more informed and able to make changes in their local communities to improve air quality.