I acquired a homemade and open source Adanet carbon dioxide (CO2) monitor from a friend in Chicago and tested it on a short trip on the Brown Line ‘L’. The Adanet monitors the concentration of CO2 in the air, in parts per million, which is a proxy for how “fresh” the surrounding air is.

Monitoring CO2 concentration became a more common activity and point of discussion since the COVID-19 pandemic began. A key way to reduce risk of transmission is to have “fresher” air. I’ll establish that “fresher” air is replacing air that has people’s outgoing CO2 with air that has less CO2, namely outdoor air.

(Another reason to monitor CO2? Excessive CO2 can lead to a decline in cognitive ability and sleep quality.)

I conducted an unscientific test of the “freshness” of the air inside a single Brown Line car on my trip between the Western and Belmont stations. I took five readings, which was the most I could take given that the Adanet refreshes every three minutes.

Map showing gray markers indicating where readings were taken. The trip started at the Western Brown Line station and the last reading was taking just before the train pulled into the Belmont station.

The ambient global measurement of CO2 is 421 ppm, measured in May 2022.

On the transit trip, the lowest reading was 475 ppm, which was taken while the device was in my coat pocket before I boarded the train at the outdoor station.

The highest reading was 680 ppm, when the train car had the most people on it during my short trip.

I have been checking the Adanet since getting home two hours ago.

  • I left it in the hallway outside my apartment and a single reading was 556 ppm.
  • Inside my studio readings have been around 650±20 ppm.
  • The highest reading since I got home has been 830 ppm and this is because I partially burned a quesadilla, releasing additional carbon into the air (my standalone air filter also turned on automatically to deal with the reduction in air quality).
  • I opened the balcony door to let fresh air in and 15 minutes later the reading dropped to between 671 and 692 ppm (the more readings the better).