Every day, we breathe in between 15,000 and 20,000 litres of air – enough to fill three hot air balloons in a year. This precious substance is made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% carbon dioxide. But what else is in the air we breathe, how did it get there, and what does it mean for our health?

Air pollution is an invisible problem. But the consequences for our everyday health are serious. Polluted air can cause shortness of breath, coughing, burning eyes, and can agitate asthma. Long-term deterioration of air quality can lead to more serious consequences for our health such as asthma, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer, as well as diseases related to the nervous and reproductive systems. According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution is responsible for the premature deaths of 7 million people every year.

Greenpeace Bulgaria activists protest in Stara Zagora, part of the '#GetUpAnd' day of action © Greenpeace

The ‘#GetUpAnd’ Global Day of Action called on people around the world to give political and corporate leaders a ‘serious wake-up call’ so that they tackle the causes of climate change and champion a transition to renewable energy by 2050 © Greenpeace

When it comes to air quality, Bulgaria is one of the most polluted countries in the EU. At Greenpeace Bulgaria, we’ve been working on ways in which we can shine a light on this invisible problem.

In October we officially launched our “Dustcounters” project in Stara Zagora in Southern Bulgaria. In collaboration with the Robotev robotics lab, we created and designed the Dustcounter – an easy to use, easy to assemble, do-it-yourself device that allow users to measure the levels of dust and particulate matter near their homes or workplaces. The innovative design allows for straightforward assembly from easy to find hardware, and was created with open-source technology (Arduino), making the device affordable and easy to build and operate for non-professionals without technical expertise.

Air Pollution Measuring Tools in Bulgaria © Ivan Donchev / Greenpeace

Bulgaria is rated as one of the most polluted countries in EU when it comes to air quality. In collaboration with tech lab “Robotev” a network of citizen-run air quality monitoring stations is developed that is based on an open-source platform © Ivan Donchev / Greenpeace

We want to use Dustcounters to empower people to think about the air they breathe, and to take action when it comes to air quality and pollution. The devices will not collect official data, they are intended to encourage members of the public to get involved, and to raise awareness of this serious issue. The campaign began with a workshop for volunteers and activists from Stara Zagora – a region with the worst coal pollution in Bulgaria – to come and learn how to build their own Dustcounter.

Air Pollution Measuring Tools in Bulgaria © Ivan Donchev / Greenpeace

Greenpeace Bulgaria held a brief info session and a workshop with 25 volunteers from the region. As part of the workshop they assembled the devices. All devices will later become active and operational and will start taking measures of the dust level every hour © Ivan Donchev / Greenpeace

Almost all the devices are now active and operational, taking measurements of pollutive dust levels in the air, every hour. Once a day, the data is sent to the Greenpeace Bulgaria website, where people can view the results for each device. At the end of February next year, we will compile, analyse and assess these results. Based on this information we intend to improve and develop better, more precise “Dustcounters 2.0” in 2017.

You can find instructions here (in Bulgarian) explaining how to create your own air pollution monitor.

Dustcounter Assembly, Bulgaria, 24 Oct 2016

Air belongs to all of us. We are all responsible for its pollution. Human activities – burning fossil fuels for energy, transport and industrial agriculture – are among the leading sources of pollution in the air.

We need to be better informed to take control of the air we breathe. Together, we can help to reduce harmful emissions and improve the quality of all our lives.

Teodora Stoyanova is a Climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace CEE in Bulgaria.