Air Quality

Project 7: Air Quality in Australia

This project will 'nationalise' some of the learning from the Western Sydney air quality study, as a response to our recent user consultation. Western Sydney faces some particular problems regarding its air quality, a function of its rapid development and geography. Some of what we are learning about measuring, modelling and managing air quality is, however, transferable. This project will explore this extension, taking careful regard of what is truly generalizable from the Western Sydney experience and what is feasible within CAUL's resources. For this reason, the project has a low profile in 2018 and a duration listed of one year. During 2018 we will explore the value and feasibility of several national extensions of existing work in Western Sydney. If we judge these feasible and valuable, work will ramp up as the Western Sydney project winds down. It is also possible that other aspects of the Sydney study will be expanded. The following three aspects will be investigated:

  1. emissions sources and air quality, traffic, smoke and biogenic emissions
  2. indoor air quality.
  3. ambient air quality, noise and health


Hugh Forehead, UWA.


7.1 - Traffic and Air Quality. Improving the National Pollutant Inventory
7.2 - Role of pollution from fires and urban air quality in Australian cities
7.3 - Indoor Air Quality
7.4 - Ambient Air Quality, Noise & Health





Clare Murphy
Doreena Dominick
Elise-Andree Guerette
Graham Kettlewell
Terry Li
Travis Naylor
Alastair Williams
Scott Chambers
Alan Griffith
Pascal Perez
Steve Wilson
Anne Steinemann
Nigel Goodman
Guy Marks
Bin Jalaudin
Geoff Morgan
Christine Cowie
Peter Rayner
Jenny Fisher


7.1 - Emission sources and air quality

Project Leader: Hugh Forehead, UOW

In this sub-project we will focus on ensuring a better understanding of the main sources of atmospheric trace gases and pollutants that impact on urban air quality.

The principle target sources will be:
1. Traffic related pollution
2. Smoke from hazard reduction burns, wildfires and wood-smoke from domestic heaters
3. Biogenic emissions from trees and shrubs (which react with traffic emissions to increase ozone and fine particulate matter in the atmosphere).

We will also work to finalise the outputs from Project 1 and disseminate the results both scientifically and publicly.

Traffic related pollution

The national pollutant inventory (NPI) is the underlying data set which informs the impact of new emissions and the consequences for health and the environment. It includes point data on industrial emissions and data on diffuse sources like traffic. The modelling of these is patchy and outdated. This project will develop methods scoped previously in P7.1 to improve this. Previous work in Melbourne and Sydney act as trial sites for this expansion but also as the standard against which the more broad-brush work here will be assessed. Outcomes include a more nationally uniform assessment of the impact of traffic emissions on health and a tool for projecting the health impact of future traffic and population changes beyond Western Sydney. It will improve the baseline against which future environmental assessments are made and will be included in future versions of the NPI.

Networked, low-cost sensors (internet of things or IoT) are becoming increasingly popular with the ever wider deployment of free or cheap public networks, such as Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN). The quality of these sensors is highly variable, but the measurement of particulate matter shows some promise. To follow on from a federally-funded Smart Cities project with the City of Liverpool, NSW, we will evaluate low-cost sensors to determine their potential for quantifying and mapping PM2.5 pollution at street level.

1. We will design a modelling framework that standardises the interface between the major components of traffic emission modelling; namely traffic modelling, emission modelling, dispersion modelling, and a dashboard (for reporting and visualisation purposes).While jurisdictions may use different packages for each of these modelling components, the adaptability of such a standardised framework ensures the consistent and comparable outputs of emission modelling across these jurisdictions. This work will be carried out at UOW, with contributions from RMIT researchers if resources allow.

2. The framework will be demonstrated by case studies of traffic emission modelling in Wollongong, Sydney and if time allows, Melbourne. The work will continue to require collaboration with state EPAs.

3. Evaluate the use of low-cost sensors for estimating PM2.5 pollution at street level in Liverpool NSW. We have chosen this location due to its significance as a rapidly expanding urban centre and the opportunities for taking advantage of a newly established research relationship between UOW and the Liverpool City Council. This will be particularly valuable for obtaining access to data and infrastructure. If resources permit, we will establish a new monitoring facility and citizen science program at Liverpool Girls High School in collaboration with NSW OEH. We expect this to outlive the project by some years.

Paramatta, Western Sydney.

Smoke pollution and air quality

We will work towards a better estimate of smoke composition, emissions from hazard reduction burns and improving estimates of population exposure to pollutants in smoke. We will characterise the chemical composition of smoke on UOW equipment, using spectroscopic measurements techniques and if access is possible, we will deploy further instrumentation on the fire ground. Detailed analyses of the data will be used to assess the accumulative effects of all the pollutants in different toxicological classes, so that total potential health impacts may be better understood in the context of other pollution sources. Where possible we will collaborate with the work being undertaken by the NSW OEH bushfires hub, including working towards an understanding of the different emissions scenarios that result from cultural burning practices such as that undertaken by the Mudjingaalbaraga Firesticks Program.

Biogenic emissions and air quality

There is growing recognition of the importance of the chemicals emitted by trees (biogenic volatile organic compounds or BVOCs) on atmospheric chemistry and air quality within urban air-sheds (especially in cities surrounded by densely forested regions). Within Australia many of the major cities have very high levels of atmospheric VOCs that are predominantly emitted by vegetation within the cities and emissions originating from nearby natural forested regions. These chemicals react in the atmosphere leading to increased concentrations of fine particulates and ozone, causing poor air quality and adverse health impacts. Currently understanding of these important atmospheric impacts is hindered by an almost complete lack of measurements of these biogenic emissions from Australian vegetation. Models of atmospheric composition (for air quality forecasting and for climate simulations) rely on assumptions about the amounts and types of these chemicals emitted into the atmosphere by our forests. There is strong evidence from these models that current estimates of the most important emissions are wrong by a factor of two or three.

The Biogenic Ambient Atmospheric Sampling System (BAASS) has been commissioned by the University of Wollongong in order to fill this knowledge gap, and comprises an Agilent Gas Chromatography - Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) and atmospheric pre-concentration unit from Markes.

BAASS has been deployed at ANSTO, surrounded by forest, to enable measurements of the ambient concentrations of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) for a year-round study.

There is a possibility of the Project being the springboard for a larger international campaign named COALA.  NCAR are looking to bring 3 tall towers for flux measurements in nearby forested areas and a consortium of Universities from UK are bidding to bring the instrumented FAAM BAE-146 aircraft to fly transects along the east coast to see how emissions vary with vegetation and soil changes. Ideally, these first measurements will be
made available to our international collaborators to aid their preparations for the COALA campaign.

Subproject 7.3 - Indoor Air Quality

Project Leader: Anne Steinemann, UoM

In Australia, most human exposure to potentially hazardous air pollutants occurs indoors. A primary source of these air pollutants are common fragranced consumer products, such as cleaning supplies and air fresheners. Emissions from these products have been associated with adverse effects to humans, the economy, and the environment. For instance, more than one-third of Australians report health problems from fragranced consumer products, resulting in lost work days or a job for more than one million Australians in one year (Steinemann 2017). Fragranced product VOCs are both a dominant contributor to pollutants indoors (Goodman et al. 2017) as well as outdoors (McDonald et al. 2018).

Essential oil diffusers like these can contribute negatively to indoor air quality. Credit: via Flickr Your Best Digs (CC BY 2.0)

As a response, "fragrance-free policies" have been implemented in workplaces, schools, health care facilities, and other indoor environments (e.g., residences with sensitive individuals such as asthmatics). These policies generally restrict the use of fragranced products indoors, and thereby switch to fragrance-free products, no products, or alternative approaches. However, despite the importance and increasing implementation of fragrance-free policies, little if any prior research has investigated whether and to what extent these policies can improve indoor air quality.

This proposed scope of work for the Indoor Air Quality project will investigate the potential improvements in indoor air quality from the implementation of fragrance-free policies. Here, the term "policies" is used broadly and will include both formal and informal protocols and practices, which we will term "interventions." For pollutants, we will examine both volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (e.g., PM 2.5). The particulate matter research will be conducted in collaboration with Associate Professor Clare Murphy and members of the Sub-project 1 team.

The main project tasks will proceed as follows:
1. Perform pre-intervention VOC measurements within indoor environments. We will examine three main environments, which could include educational, occupational, organisational, governmental, or residential buildings. The analytic focus will be on VOCs, specifically terpenes and aldehydes, that are characteristic of fragranced products and that are implicated as the dominant pollutants.
2. Implement interventions. Within each of these environments, we will implement interventions that include but are not limited to the following: switching from fragranced to fragrance-free products (e.g., cleaning supplies, laundry detergents, soaps); using no products (e.g., using plain water instead of a product); removing air fresheners (from toilets and interior spaces); and reducing use of fragranced personal care products.
3. Perform post-intervention VOC and PM2.5 measurements within indoor environments. We will take indoor air samples after the interventions, in successive time periods during the year, to track the gradual improvements and the relative effectiveness of different types of interventions.
4. Analyse and quantify effects on indoor air quality from implementing a fragrance-free policy in a previously fragranced environment. We will examine each of the environments and interventions to assess the effectiveness and quantify the spatial and temporal changes (reductions) in concentrations of terpenes and aldehydes.
5. Develop practical guidance, including implementation strategies, measurement protocols, and evaluation methods, for fragrance-free indoor environmental quality policies, which can reduce exposure to potentially hazardous air pollutants.

This fourth year of research in the Indoor Air Quality project will build upon and significantly extend the contributions of the prior three years of research which found that (a) terpenes such as limonene and alpha-pinene, characteristic of fragrance products, are among the most prevalent and highest concentration pollutants indoors, and can react with ozone to generate hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, as well as particulate matter (such as PM2.5), (b) significant reductions in limonene concentrations (up to 99%) in air are possible by switching even one product (e.g., laundry detergent) from fragranced to fragrance-free, yet also that (c) fragrance compounds can persist indoors and switching to fragrance-free products will result in immediate but also increasing improvements over time. We foresee that this fourth year will also set up research for the fifth year of the project, which would include an evaluation of potential health benefits (e.g., reduction in sick days) from switching from fragranced to fragrance-free environments.

Subproject 7.4 – Ambient Air Quality, Noise & Health

Project leader: Jane Heyworth, UWA

Throughout CAUL we have sought to build decision support tools that link urban planning, through emissions scenarios to pollutant concentrations and finally impacts on health and well-being. This subproject addresses the last link in this chain: the impact of pollutant concentration on health. Although the existence of a link is now well established, quantifying its strength in the Australian context is a necessary step for integrated decision support. For this we need co-located data on pollutant concentrations and health outcomes. We will address two case studies that provide such data.

7.4.1. Health Impact Assessment of long term exposure to air pollution on mortality and hospital
admission, with a sub analysis for Western Sydney.

7.4.2. Quantification of the relationship between PM2.5, NO2/NOx and PM2.5 absorbance as well as
green space exposure and health outcomes in the Health in Men Study (Perth)

7.4.3 Modelling noise pollution

Chronic exposure to high levels of noise is known to be a stressor for humans and other organisms. Furthermore, noise is increasing with increasing traffic, in-fill of suburbs close to city centres and urbanisation in general. It impacts on cardiovascular health and also is a confounder in the relationship between air quality and health. Despite its ubiquity, noise is a neglected area of health research. In Australia we have limited data with which to assess exposure at a population level for epidemiologic research. As with some other pollutants, noise is a highly heterogeneous field and it is impossible to measure it comprehensively. To understand its population effect we need to be able to describe its spatial variation. This is the task of noise models. We already have a preliminary model for Melbourne and one task will be to bring this up-to-date. We will also develop preliminary noise models for Sydney and Perth. This work will also feed the work on noise pollution and urban ecology in Project 5.

Banner image: Melbourne sky. Credit: HKMAA via flickr (CC0 1.0)