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 - Traffic and Air Quality. Improving the National Pollutant Inventory.

Project Leader: Hugh Forehead, UOW

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 The modelling of these is patchy and outdated.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 extend methods developed previously in P4.1 and P1.3 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.

Paramatta, Western Sydney.

7.2 - Role of pollution from fires and urban air quality in Australian cities

Project Leader: Clare Murphy, UoW

Wood smoke is a major component of particulate pollution in Australian cities and towns. Its major sources are domestic wood heating, hazard-reduction burns and bushfires. Control of these sources is contentious. Building on measurements and models from the Western Sydney study, we will build a more complete picture of the potentially toxic components of wood smoke to calculate the total health impacts. We will also explore tying measurements and modelling of wood smoke to the work on health outcomes generated in P1. This could lead to a framework for evaluating the health impact of policies on domestic wood heating and hazard-reduction burns. In this first year, we will concentrate on analysing existing data collected from Western Sydney and from Darwin (the Australian city with the worst levels of PM2.5 pollution).

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.

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)