A community of scientists and citizens address air quality in Liverpool

There is increasing public and government concern about poor air quality all around the world, with recent studies linking air pollution with “devastating impacts on children’s health” (WHO 2018). Last year, Liverpool in Sydney’s south-west recorded the worst air pollution of fine particles (PM2.5) in New South Wales and worsening (Ewald 2019). This makes it a critically important region to study diminishing air quality. Concerns around this issue were also raised in community consultations at CAUL Hub’s roadshows in 2018 and for a Smart Cities project in Liverpool, involving CAUL Hub researchers and Liverpool City Council.

In order to better enable local government to address community concerns around air quality, CAUL Hub has been conducting large-scale, atmospheric modelling work in western Sydney. It was this initial research which set the stage for a larger collaboration – providing the opportunity for young female scientists to contribute to cutting-edge air quality research and help make their community healthier.

This collaboration brings together scientists, the council and potential future female scientists from Liverpool Girl’s High School. Following a lengthy approval process, a state-of-the-art air quality monitoring station was installed on the school’s grounds in late February 2019. This work was initiated by CAUL Hub and will add to other research from a Smart Cities grant between Liverpool City Council and The University of Wollongong. Not only will the site provide critically important air quality measurements from the area, it will also provide the rare opportunity for the high school students to be involved in such research. Using this equipment, the students will be able to learn about, design and run their own citizen science air quality projects in their community. Students will also have access to data from a network of air quality monitoring sensors from around Sydney.

CAUL Hub researchers initially worked with the Principal and senior science teachers at the Liverpool Girls’ High School to help design engaging Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) projects around air quality. CAUL Hub researchers were able to build upon this through long-time relationships with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), to install a suite of reference-grade air quality measuring equipment in the high school. OEH has provided the air quality station, which measures a number of pollutants, including PM2.5. and ANSTO have provided a Radon Detector, which measures atmospheric turbulence. There will be long-lasting impacts from the installation of this equipment, with both agencies continuing to contribute to STEM education and the equipment remaining at the school well beyond this year’s classes.

Data collected from this new air quality monitoring site will contribute to wider research into what makes healthy public spaces in Liverpool. Site surveys and interviews with people in public spaces will help guide local council as it plans public spaces for the future expansion of the suburb. Air quality and pedestrian counting sensors from the 2017-2019 Smart Cities project have also helped formed the foundation for this research. Students will be able to use the sensors developed by CAUL Hub researchers for the Smart Cities project to make mobile measurements around the streets of Liverpool. This data will determine the quality of air pedestrians are breathing every day and help the community find safer, less polluted routes around the city centre. All this data will be made freely available to the public – helping address community concerns and unease about air quality in the area.

This large-scale collaboration and comprehensive engagement promises to yield lasting benefits for the community, as well as provide rare opportunities for young female scientists to be involved in cutting-edge research.

Featured image: Sydney CBD. Credit: Jeremy Kerwin via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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