Google is adding air quality data to its Nest Hub smart displays. While the new feature is still only available in “select” US markets, it’ll give some users an idea of how much risk they might face from smoke and pollution in the area.
Google says it will roll out the new feature “over the coming weeks.” An Air Quality Index badge will show up on the clock and weather widget on the Nest Hub’s Ambient screen. Anyone who doesn’t want to see the badge will be able to opt out.
The data comes from the Environmental Protection Agency, which rates air quality on a scale from zero to 500, with zero being the best air quality. It also color-codes its ratings in categories ranging from “good” to “hazardous” air quality.
The EPA calculates risk by assessing five major pollutants: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, smog, and particle pollution (which includes soot and smoke). Smoke from raging wildfires in the Western US has spread across the country over the past month. New York state issued a health advisory in July when smoke arrived from the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, thousands of miles away.
In places where Google’s new air quality feature is available, Nest Hubs will issue an alert when pollution reaches an unhealthy level or a level that’s unhealthy for “sensitive groups.” The Nest Hub will also respond to the voice command, “What’s the air quality near me?”
The EPA’s air quality data is easy to access even if you don’t have a Nest Hub, or if its new features aren’t available in your area. The EPA’s AirNow website lets users plug in their location to get an air quality rating for that area. There’s also the EPA’s Fire and Smoke Map, which has pretty wild visualizations of how far wildfire smoke reaches.
While the EPA has a network of thousands of air quality sensors across the nation, it doesn’t always pick up everything. The sensors are expensive to deploy and can be spread far apart from each other, so they can miss higher concentrations of pollution in some areas. Its monitors have also missed “major toxic releases” in the past when equipment failed or was out of operation, a Reuters investigation found.