Clear Skies, Hidden Dangers: Understanding Rural Air Pollution

Roughly one in five Americans reside in rural areas. While it may seem that these communities have great air quality compared to a city, the reality is different. Many harmful pollutants are released during various agricultural activities, challenging the notion of pure air in rural settings. Pollution sources from various agricultural activities create air pollutants, and one activity that can create large quantities of pollutants is agricultural burning.

Photo Credit: Dominik Kiss

Although agricultural burning can be effective for soil prep, it releases a significant amount of PM2.5, consisting of fine particles capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and even entering the bloodstream. While this agricultural practice will likely persist, you should stay informed about burning locations and times. A simple precautionary measure could be keeping home and vehicle windows closed when burning is planned. Monitoring air quality also allows for a better understanding of the impact that burning practices have on local air quality, and it allows you to make real-time decisions to protect yourself from poor air quality.

"Some rural communities may be more prone to poor air quality from wildfire smoke due to their geographic locations, prevailing winds, and topography" - U.S. Government Accountability Office

Another source of rural pollution is dust, which is often generated during agricultural, construction, gravel,  oil, gas, and mining activities, which affect the surrounding air quality. Dust from the soil typically contains silica, a mineral commonly found in sand, soil, rock, and gravel. Silica dust poses serious health risks because these dust particles become trapped in lung tissue causing inflammation and scarring.

Photo credit: Julian Hochgesang

In a technology assessment by the Government Accountability Office, it was found that some rural communities have utilized air quality sensors to make positive change. Examples include:

  • Heavy Industries: In industries like fuel and mining sites, communities have leveraged air quality sensor data to advocate for improvements in air quality through dialogue with local government authorities, resulting in tangible enhancements to the environment.


  • Smoke: Whether from wildfires or wood stoves, smoke frequently contributes to pollution in rural regions. Local decision-makers have demonstrated the use of air quality sensors to develop initiatives aimed at enhancing local air quality. For instance, in Minnesota, a program was implemented to encourage residents to switch from wood-burning fireplaces to electric fireplaces. This initiative aimed to decrease the emission of harmful pollutants within residential homes.
Photo credit: Cyrus Christensen
  • Agriculture: According to the EPA, “Nearly 1.2 billion acres of the nation’s 2.3 billion acres are devoted to agriculture”. In these agricultural areas, pollution primarily stems from dust generated by tillage, livestock, field burning, and fuel combustion in agricultural equipment, producing “Coarse” particles (larger than 2.5 micrometers). Utilizing sensor data to monitor these pollutants could prove invaluable in identifying opportunities to enhance local air quality.


  • Education: Understanding the significance of air quality is an essential step in developing strategies to understand and address sources of poor air quality. Rural communities stand to gain significant value from utilizing air quality sensors to comprehend the quality of the air they breathe.


Unfortunately, it can be more difficult to deploy air quality sensors in rural areas because of the increased travel time for users to maintain, service, or troubleshoot them. Residents in remote communities could also encounter challenges in reliably powering and communicating with their sensors. Consequently, they may face limited options when selecting sensors suitable for their requirements.

AirU Pro connected to a solar panel, battery, and wind sensor.

However, companies like TELLUS now offer solutions to address challenges related to understanding rural air quality. With developments in solar power systems, LTE (cellular), and upcoming LoraWAN options, you can access your air quality measurements in remote areas with limited infrastructure. Rural communities can now access efficient and dependable air quality monitoring solutions, empowering them to make informed decisions for a healthier environment.


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