The N.W.T. wants help measuring air quality, so it's giving out free sensors

There are air quality monitoring stations in only five communities in the N.W.T. Now, the territorial government is trying to use smaller, cheaper devices to fill the gap.

The goal is to have at least one sensor in each community to fill an information gap

The N.W.T. government is giving out these small air quality sensors to people in hopes of providing communities, and itself, with better air quality data. (Submitted by Imran Maqsood)

The N.W.T. government is distributing small air quality sensors — for free — that'll give residents real-time information about how clean the air is in their community. 

Yellowknife, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Norman Wells and Inuvik are the only communities that have air quality monitoring stations right now.

Imran Maqsood, the territory's air quality program manager, said the equipment is expensive and requires a specialist to maintain, which is why it's asking people to "host" the small PurpleAir branded sensors as well.

He said the goal is to have at least one in each community. 

"We are trying to fill the gap we have in the territory, to help communities … make decisions about when the air quality is bad," he said. The information from the sensors is made available, in real time, on a virtual map managed by the University of Northern British Columbia. 

The map gives people a measurement of air quality in a given community, and messaging for what the general population and those who are at risk should do with that information. 

Maqsood said the data will also help the territory develop a baseline of data that it can use to measure air quality changes over time. The territory said it'll be valuable as it measures the impact and intensity of climate change. 

"With climate change happening, we are experiencing more wildfire smoke. Also, we are expecting more frequent fires," he pointed out.

The devices

The devices cost about $500 but are coming to the territorial government, for free, from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). Maqsood said they've requested 35, and have only received 22 so far — but are expecting more. 

Imran Maqsood, the territory's air quality program manager, said three small air quality sensors were installed in Yellowknife last year and performed well during extreme cold. (Submitted by Imran Maqsood)

He said a handful of residents have already come forward asking for the sensors since the Community Based Air Monitoring Project was launched during the Northwest Territories Association of Communities annual general meeting on Thursday. 

"It's being well-received," he said. 

There is no limit to the number of sensors the territory would distribute, he said, but it depends on how many they can get from the ECCC. He said the goal was to make sure each community had at least one sensor, and then after that, making sure there's good spatial distribution in a given place. 

Maqsood said three of the devices were installed in Yellowknife last year, and they performed well in extreme cold. There is also a sensor in each Tuktoyaktuk, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson already.

Maqsood said the device requires WiFi and power to function, and is easy for people to install on their own.


Liny Lamberink


Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She moved to Yellowknife in March 2021, after working as a reporter and newscaster in Ontario for five years. She is a member of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network. You can reach her at