Mikko Laakso: “Finns can solve air quality problems around the world”

Interview 26.02.2019

In order for air quality to be improved, it first has to be understood. That is what Vaisala’s Business Development Manager Mikko Laakso believes. He is involved in developing one of the world’s most regionally accurate air quality measurement systems for the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.

Bad air quality is a major problem worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as seven million people die of air pollution each year. Although the problem may seem a distant one for Finland, in actuality it is not.

“We think we don’t have to worry because Finland has the cleanest air in the world. However, particulates and other air quality problems also cause over a thousand premature deaths in Finland each year”, says Vaisala’s Business Development Manager Mikko Laakso.

Laakso is involved in the Helsinki Metropolitan Air Quality Testbed project (HAQT), which is creating a dense and accurate air quality measurement system for the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. Laakso highlights the importance of measuring and monitoring. It is easier to improve air quality when you have more accurate data on it. New measurement and modeling methods can be used to model air quality at up to 15-metre accuracy and to create air quality forecasts.

“Health services, for example, can be developed based on the accurate data and forecasts. An asthmatic could be assisted by a mobile app that reports the air quality status in town. If there’s a lot of air pollution in a certain part of town, the asthmatic would be able to avoid going there”, Laakso explains.

Accurate air quality data would also help direct traffic away from areas where air pollution accumulates easily. Or, the data could be used to regulate ventilation of buildings. If the air is polluted, ventilation can be adjusted by also taking into account the quality of the replacement air taken in.

Inspiration from helping countries suffering from air pollution

Vaisala has developed and manufactured a new type of sensor for measuring air quality. Laakso is very excited by the new devices used in the project, which are small and inexpensive. The devices have been used to complement the official EU approved air quality measurement system. Laakso believes there is a great demand for air quality experts worldwide.

“Improving air quality is a large global trend and therefore a major business opportunity. We can solve air quality problems around the world with Finnish expertise. For example, world-class atmospheric research has been conducted in Finland, led by Professor Markku Kulmala.”

Laakso has been involved in the HAQT project since its inception. The project is now in its final stages and Laakso hopes the measurement system will remain in use even after the project ends.

“We have collaborated very successfully with the ​Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and Pegasor. That’s why it would be great to see the system we developed together remain in use. I hope these kinds of systems will be introduced in other countries as well, which would improve the air quality there. In China and India, for example, the problems are huge. The fact that I could improve the situation of these countries even a little inspires me to keep going.”