One startup, one story: what if children breathed untainted air?

How air pollutant analysis just got easier and more precise. Let’s meet In’Air Solutions.

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas used in the manufacture of common building materials and household products such as carpets, furniture, shelving, flooring and bedding. It is found in 100 percent of French homes, offices and schools.

Studies have shown that exposure can trigger asthma in children. French legislation coming into force on January 1, 2018 requires schools and kindergartens to monitor formaldehyde and another pollutant, Benzene, a carcinogen that causes leukemia.

Stéphane Le Calvé, a researcher at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Strasbourg was invited to a working group on the indoor impact of chemical air pollutants by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) and the ministry responsible for sustainable development. He began thinking about the public health impact of formaldehyde… and invented a fully automated machine to measure it. Like all scientists, Stéphane was obsessed with precision, but he also wanted to develop something useful.

His first criterion was real-time readings (existing methods involved sample times over several weeks and lab tests). Secondly, he wanted to improve on the only device providing continuing and immediate analysis, which was cumbersome and prohibitively expensive.

The product he developed is portable (battery-operated and weighing five kg), programmable and can visualize changes over time. Fitted in a school, for example, it can tell you when the peaks occurred. This will improve general understanding – for example few teachers know that common activities such as painting, gluing or using felt can be sources of pollution. The invention can also pinpoint where the pollution came from, and which air currents it moved with. Information like this enables schools to identify and eliminate the source, ensuring that children can breathe easier.

Looking for someone to market his product, Stéphane met Stéphanette Englaro in 2011. She understood the science along with the market potential, and two years later they formed In’Air Solutions.

Supported with public and private funding – and hosted and encouraged by Strasbourg University and the CNRS – they have developed a technology that has won numerous awards, including Bpifrance’s Innovative Business Creation prize.

They have also adapted their technology to measure for other pollutants. By early 2017, In’Air Solutions will have two products to market, to analyze formaldehyde and benzene – both of which must be measured in educational establishments from 2018. With help from Business France they’ve already tested export demand in Europe and will soon be doing the same in North America.

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