”It starts a conversation on how to cohabitate with pollution”
More than 80 percent of urban dwellers live with air quality that far exceeds the World Health Organization’s safety limits, with the vast majority of citizens living in blissful ignorance that as air quality declines, the risk of serious illnesses like stroke, lung cancer, and heart disease goes up. But a new line of pollution-detecting shirts called Aerochromics might just have the potential to change our behavior.
“I wanted to start a product that we use every day that would help fight and protect pollution,” says Nikolas Bentel, the 23-year-old New York designer who launched the line Thursday. “It’s definitely a hidden threat.”
Each pollution-reactive cotton shirt, priced at $500 apiece, takes about five seconds to change from white to black based on pollution levels. “The shirts give us the ability to not only participate in the dialogue surrounding pollution, but to speculate and ultimately change the way we move through and think about our urban spaces,” Bentel says.
There are three shirts in the series. The first in the collection is the radioactivity shirt, which uses a nontoxic chemical process indicator dye that changes with exposure to gamma or electron beam radiation. “Nobody has used them on consumer-grade clothing yet, which surprises me,” Bentel explains, adding that once the shirt has been exposed to a heavy dose of radiation, it will remain black forever.
The second shirt in the series is the carbon monoxide shirt, which is oxidized by chemical salts, which it then turns it into carbon dioxide. It’s similar to household carbon monoxide spot detectors, which turn black when carbon monoxide is present and turn clear again when the air has stabilized. “This is the same chemical, just on a shirt,” Bentel says.
The third and final piece in the series is the particle pollution shirt, which uses microcontroller sensors embedded on the front and back of the shirt collar to activate chromic dye patches, revealing monochromatic polka dots on the shirt when pollution levels are too high.
[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]It starts conversation on how to cohabitate with pollution and counteract pollution in your area.[/quote]
Currently, the world monitors air pollution levels through a system of 20,000 air quality monitoring stations in over 70 countries, though many have faced closures thanks to government budget cuts. Even when stations remain open, it can be difficult to track pollution levels beyond the boundaries of each stationary sensor.
“Clothing is the next step—they’re movable sensors, basically,” says Bentel. “Those suffering the side effects of pollution will not know where it comes from or how to stop it, but this clothing will add to the global mass of sensors.”
According to the World Health Organization, Zabol, Iran is the most polluted city in the world with six times higher pollutants than the recommended maximum. As Bentel and the World Health Organization note, being aware of air pollution might help extend your life as people living in highly polluted areas have a vastly reduced life span. These shirts might just be the early warning system the world needs.
“It starts a conversation on how to cohabitate with pollution and counteract pollution in your area,” Bentel says of his futuristic fashion. “The air we breathe is all around us. If it’s cleaner, we would be able to live longer, see farther, and have a healthier lifestyle.”