Air pollution poses health risks to millions of Americans each day, contributing to asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory conditions.

But what if we all had our own air pollution sensor? Would it help us all breathe easier?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) certainly thinks so. They, alongside the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), confronted today's scientists with the My Air, My Health Challenge, which was established by the agencies to improve environmental and public health.

The challenge began because they envisioned a future in which people could have more control over their health care choices by being able to measure, for themselves, the air quality of the locations they frequented.

The innovators of the Conscious Clothing system, who have won the challenge, were awarded $100,000 for their efforts. The wearable device, worn over clothing, measures the amount of contaminants in the air that an individual is breathing. The device also has Bluetooth capabilities, so that the data can be recorded. The aim is to understand the relationship between levels of air pollutants and people's health. Glenn Paulson, Ph.D., EPA science advisor, has said, "We're at the edge of a technology wave where anyone can use these sensors. The potential impact on personalized health and local environmental quality is tremendous."

The device made by Conscious Clothing is an indication of the newly forged connection between technology specialists and health professionals to enhance biomedical research and solve health problems. Researchers will be given real time information about air pollution and a person's wellbeing, instead of relying on questionnaires and assumptions in their studies. This may also lead to changes in the way cities or other metropolises operate, in order to ensure the health of their residents, as most air pollution is found in highly populated areas.

The challenge has placed the scientific community on the precipice of integrating current technology with studies regarding public health. Measurements of pollutants in the air can give direct and clear explanations for why some people's asthma or allergies are more aggravated than others. Similarly, knowing where contaminants are, and to what degree, can help people either avoid places that will make them sick, or otherwise help health care professionals diagnose conditions and treatments with greater ease.