Reading It Wrongly Can Kill You

Can you trust the air quality index (AQI)?

Brilliant & Company
4 min readDec 26, 2019


There are thousands of air quality monitors scattered across the globe today. Some are sponsored by governments, such as in Malaysia or Singapore while others are independent like AirVisual and Clarity. With so many monitors around the world, how do we tell which one is accurate?

For starters, below is the recommended AQI guidelines by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ideally, an environment where the AQI is below 50 is considered healthy to engage in outdoor activities like jogging and hiking. But the problem begins when the AQI is bad and is underreported. People who rely on them will be mistaken that the air is good, unaware that it may slowly be killing them.

How did AQI become a trend?

Dirty air used to be the norm in big cities as population and consumption grow like in Korea, Delhi, and China. Unfortunately, it is becoming the norm worldwide. Wildfires and forest burning have wreaked havoc and caused immeasurable pollution to our air this year, as seen in Indonesia, California, Siberia, the Amazon, and most recently in Australia.

Forest fires in California, Nov. 2019.

These tragic incidents highlight the need and urgency for people to invest in an air quality monitor and most importantly, are the more reason to be informed of the dangers and accuracy of our air.

AQI Can be Inaccurate and Underreported

Governments have a notorious reputation for reporting inaccurate AQI for both political and economic reasons.

For years, Beijing has grossly understated the severity of pollution by announcing good or even excellent air quality nearly 80% of the time. But a monitor atop the US Embassy illuminated a different perspective: over 80% of days had unhealthy levels of pollution. Due to public pressure arising from the US Embassy assessments and the sharp rise in lung cancer rate, the Chinese government eventually started reporting real AQI in order to avoid further public backlash. This incident has been a model example of how the importance of an accurate AQI can lead to a positive change.

Farmers are clearing land the fastest way they know how to cash in on growing demand for palm oil, which is used in half of all supermarket products from chocolate to shampoo.

Another example is Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s two largest palm oil producers. As the world’s demand for palm oil grows, it drives deforestation in Indonesia, with illegal fires, red skies, and smoke that has spread as far as Malaysia and Taiwan. It lasted over three months from September to November this year, creating the worst air pollution crisis since 1997.

Air quality in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia during the haze. Government data significantly underreport the AQI (70 vs. 138).

Not surprisingly, the AQI reported by the Department of Environment in Malaysia was severely understated. On 2nd September, the reported AQI was 70 while the actual AQI by an independent monitor read 138, highlighting how AQI was underreported due to special interests.

Which Brings Us Back to PiCO Home

At Brilliant & Company, it is our mission to create a healthier life. By understanding how severe air pollution is and how it is affecting both our world and our wellbeing, we wanted to empower others to be more informed about its dangers and to know what’s in the air they breathe. With PiCO Home, we are able to do just that.

With PiCO Home, we put the power of measuring the air into your hands and it tells you what to do if the AQI is bad.

Ultimately, PiCO Home solves the problem of inaccuracy and public distrust by measuring the air in real-time, wherever you are, at home or in the office, with its highly-accurate sensors:

  • Latest-generation laser scattering technology to detect fine particles
  • CMOSens Technology for temperature and humidity
  • MEMS metal-oxide to read VOCs and carbon dioxide values.

With PiCO Home, people will be able to live a healthier life and always be accurately informed of the AQI!

Our team will be heading to Las Vegas next month. We are excited to be there and look forward to learning more about digital health and smart home.

If you are interested to learn how we can collaborate in the future, please do not hesitate to visit us at our booth. Please click HERE for more details and we look forward to meeting you at CES 2020!

To inquire more about Brilliant & Company, please do not hesitate to drop us a line:



Brilliant & Company

We are based in Seoul, South Korea. Our mission is to create a healthier living environment.