Researchers have developed a new method to identify unhealthy levels of nitrogen dioxide could let those at risk take control of their health with cheap, personalised sensors.

Nitrogen dioxide contributes to the dangerous smog that lurks over many of the world’s cities, causing serious respiratory problems, among other health issues.

Mashable reported that Australian scientist Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, a professor at RMIT’s Centre for Advanced Electronics and Sensors, said he helped discover a new use for the material tin disulphide, which could be used as a sensor to read the level of nitrogen dioxide in the air.

Kalantar-zadeh had a personal interest in finding a way to detect the gas after his pregnant wife was diagnosed with preeclampsia, a dangerous condition for mother and child associated with high blood pressure. Kalantar-zadeh realised nitrogen dioxide is considered by some scientists to be a risk factor in developing the illness.

Around 80% of the nitrogen dioxide in our cities comes from vehicle exhaust, according to Australia’s Department of Environment, as well as other instances where fossil fuels are burnt, such from coal-fired power stations and petrol refineries.

Pollution has been at unsafe levels across southeast Asia in recent weeks, as large scale agricultural fires continue to burn in Indonesia. At least 10 people have died from haze-associated ailments, and many more have been left ill with respiratory issues.

“In some suburbs of Melbourne, the measure of nitrogen dioxide is very high,” Kalantar-zadeh told Mashable Australia. The West Gate Freeway, which his wife drove on often, is regularly blocked up with hour-long traffic jams and is used by many diesel-fuelled trucks, he explained, meaning she was regularly exposed to the potentially-deadly gas.

Unhappy with the sensors available on the market, he began looking at different materials that could detect nitrogen dioxide, but came up short until his colleague from the Chinese Academy of Sciences brought tin disulphide to his attention.