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This $500 t-shirt detects air pollution

Seeing the air we breathe.
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The colliding worlds of tech and fashion are now being served with a side of environmental awareness.

Want to know how deadly the air around you really is? Get your hands on one of these three Aerochromics t-shirts. When walking around New York City, artist and designer Nikolas Bentel happened on the idea of turning people into walking air quality monitors. His line of t-shirts is sprinkled with color-changing dyes that serve as detectors for three air pollutants: carbon monoxide, particle pollution, or radioactivity.

When the level of air pollution climbs, the fabric starts to squirm—literally. A geometric pattern of sorts emerges in the formerly solid t-shirt when it’s exposed to the specific particle, alerting its wearer to dangerous levels of pollutants in the air.

The US government deems readings of the Air Quality Index under 100 satisfactory, but Bentel argues, “Everyone should be living in good air conditions and not moderate conditions.” At 60, the fabric’s color starts to change slightly from black to white, and by 160—officially an “unhealthy” level—the pattern is fully revealed.

The transformation is reversible for two of the chemicals, but radioactivity triggers a permanent change. At $500, the price is steep for a piece of clothing that offers artistic commentary but lacks real utility. (Of course, if you’re exposed to radioactivity, you’ve probably got bigger concerns than the sunk cost of a one-off wear.)

Bentel tells Quartz that sales aren’t of great importance to him. ”The project’s store is secondary to the actual project,” says Bentel, whose intent is to highlight the dangers of poor environmental practices. “Yes, it’s good to get this technology into the hands of the public, but it is also good to spread awareness about the hidden pollutions in our urban spaces.”

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