One New York City designer has created a way to raise awareness of air pollution, with a line of shirts called Aerochromics. The shirts change color in response to levels of pollution and particles in the air. The idea comes after new World Health Organization data has shown an 8 percent rise in air pollution around the world in the last five years. In New York in particular, an NYU study recently concluded that individuals living in higher pollution zip codes were 24 percent more likely to experience artery constriction.

The designer, Nikolas Gregory Bentel, said:

“Aerochromics is a statement on the rapid deterioration of our world’s air quality. Air quality is only one small part of the larger spectrum of the pollution that we are slowly seeing taking hold of our planet.”

The shirts are responsive to different types of pollution, including carbon monoxide, particle pollution, and even radiation. The process of detection is similar to that of a carbon monoxide, using chemical salts to turn the carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, which then alters the color of the shirts. The colors can change back when in a lower pollution area. They start out in three possible black and white designs.

To detect particle pollution, the shirts carry two sensors in the front and back. A microcontroller in the collar turns the shirts from black to a spotted pattern, when the sensors encounter air that rates at 60 or above on the EPA’s Air Quality Index. The agency considers 51 or above to indicate air quality of “moderate” health concern. When the AQI of the air reaches 160, “unhealthy” according to the EPA, the patterns of the shirt become especially bold. Another version of the shirt permanently changes color when it encounters gamma or electron beam radiation.

Whether the shirts will catch on in order to have their desired effect is unclear, especially considering their 500 dollar price tag. Bentel says his sales take a backseat to making a statement with the concept itself. He does, however, claim have interest expressed from academia and businesses.

“I am not too interested in selling a lot of the clothing,” he said. “The online shop is secondary to the concept. I see Aerochromics first as a statement.”

He has, however, indicated the prices will go down in the future, making them more available to people.

“This was my first product run for the shirts so I wanted to be sure there was a demand before bringing down the cost,” Bentel said.

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