Air Quality

Project 7: Air Quality in Australia

This project will ‘nationalise’ some of the lessons from the Western Sydney air quality study. This is a response to our user consultation in 2017. 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. It will take 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 had a low profile in 2018 and a listed duration of one year. During 2018 we explored the value and feasibility of several national extensions of existing work in Western Sydney. These have been judged feasible and valuable, so this work ramped up in 2019, as some aspects of the Western Sydney project wound down.

In this last year of the project, we will finalise the Hub’s contributions to its air quality work. Most studies will be completed, but some have aspects that will be set up to continue beyond CAUL’s involvement. We will finalise investigations in three areas:

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

The project will enable policy makers to estimate the benefits of different mitigation strategies to the future air quality in Australian cities.

Project 1: Western Air-Shed and Particulate Study for Sydney (complete)

This project was designed as a direct response to the research priority: “Contribute to the design of, and inform the development of, a program for monitoring and reducing atmospheric particulate matter levels in Western Sydney.” This project aimed to increase understanding of the main drivers of poor air quality events within the NSW greater metropolitan region. Findings from this project can inform plans for monitoring air quality and policies designed to reduce exposure to particulate matter, with a focus on the growing population and development in Western Sydney.


Hugh Forehead, UWA

SUBPROJECTS (Project 7 - current)

7.1 - Traffic and Air Quality. Improving the National Pollutant Inventory
7.3 - Indoor Air Quality
7.4 - Ambient Air Quality, Noise & Health

Note: Subproject 7.2 was rolled into subproject 7.1 from Research Plan 5.

SUBPROJECTS (Project 1 - complete)

1.1 Extending air quality measurement/monitoring capacity
1.2 Implementing state-of-the-science air quality modelling techniques for estimating human exposure to airborne pollutants
1.3  Exploring potential measurement and modelling techniques for estimating human exposure to airborne pollutants
1.4 Clean Air Plan for Western Sydney





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

Subprojects (Project 7)

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 principal 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 acted 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 exposure to traffic emissions on health and a tool for projecting the health impact of future traffic and population changes beyond Western Sydney. The tool will make it cheaper and easier to calculate emissions from traffic. It will improve the baseline against which future environmental assessments are made and has the potential to be included in future iterations 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 promise. To follow on from a federally-funded Smart Cities project with the City of Liverpool, NSW, we will continue to evaluate low-cost sensors to determine their potential for quantifying and mapping PM2.5 pollution at street level.

  1. We will refine 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.
  2. Use low-cost sensors for estimating exposure to 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 productive research relationship with the Liverpool City Council. This is particularly valuable for obtaining access to data and infrastructure. We will explore methods for estimating exposure of pedestrians using the networked sensors for PM2.5, noise, and traffic (people & vehicles) counters.
  3. In 2019 we established a new monitoring facility and citizen science program at Liverpool Girls High School in collaboration with NSW OEH and ANSTO. We will build on this foundation in 2020 and expect this to outlive the project by some years.
Paramatta, Western Sydney.

Smoke pollution 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. BAASS has been deployed at ANSTO and to enable measurements of the ambient concentrations of biogenic volatile organic compounds for a year round study.

We are planning a major multi-institutional measurement campaign early in the year (January – March 2020) at Cataract gorge, as part of COALA-JOEYS (Characterising Organics and Aerosol Loading in Australia – Joint Organic Emissions Year-Round Study). This campaign will involve key stakeholders and collaborators including NSW OEH, CSIRO and the AIRBOX team. This wider collaboration enables us to maximise the benefits from the work.

Along with what we are doing in Liverpool, this should take up all the remaining resources coming into the UOW/CAC area. Finally, there is a possibility that an opportunity will arise to target new species such as POPs and mercury. Although it is not clear whether the collaborations and resources for this will eventuate, we will endeavour to capitalise on any opportunities that do arise.

Subproject 7.3 - Indoor Air Quality

Project Leader: Anne Steinemann, UoM

In Australia, most human exposure to potentially hazardous air pollutants occurs indoors, particularly volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from fragranced consumer products such as cleaning supplies and air fresheners. No Australian regulations currently address VOC emissions from products indoors, even though they can be a primary source of both indoor and outdoor air pollutants.

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

Recent CAUL research has demonstrated that one third of the population reports health problems, such as asthma attacks and migraine headaches, from exposure to fragranced products. Further, an estimated 1 million Australians have lost workdays or lost a job, in the past year, from exposure to fragranced products in the workplace. However, a majority of Australians surveyed would support fragrance-free policies for workplaces, health care facilities, and other indoor environments. Using fragrance-free rather than fragranced products can reduce VOC emissions by up to 99.7%.

Our work will explore the nexus between indoor pollutant sources from volatile consumer products and both indoor and outdoor air quality. In addition, we will partner with UoM and CAUL researchers to develop and test air sampling and atmospheric modelling techniques. Moreover, we will expand our outreach with Indigenous communities, student groups, and stakeholders to share and implement CAUL research findings. Specific activities will include the following:

  1. Engage in public outreach activities, such as media releases and community group meetings, to highlight our research on improvements to indoor air quality (e.g., VOCs and PM2.5) associated with implementation of fragrance-free policies and practices.
  2. Prepare indoor air quality fact sheets (synthesis papers) based on our product emissions research, such as on laundry supplies and air fresheners, and ways to
    reduce indoor and outdoor emissions of air pollutants and personal exposures.
  3. Continue to work with Ms. Hope Perkins, Dr Ross Peek, and other staff from the Melbourne School of Engineering to engage with Indigenous communities in the Melbourne region.
  4. Explore opportunities to conduct “a day in the life” exposure assessments using portable particle or VOC monitors.

We recognise that this work is a horizon-scanning piece, and is ahead of the current policy agenda in Australia.

Subproject 7.4 – Ambient Air Quality, Noise & Health

Project leader: Jane Heyworth, UWA

Noise pollution is the excessive sound level that can disturb human or animal life. In addition to transport infrastructure and vehicles, cars, trucks, motorbikes, airplanes, and construction activity all contribute to ambient noise levels in cities. However, we do not have good data on environmental exposure to noise and our aim is to develop noise maps for Australian cities that will allow us to estimate household (habitat) exposure to noise.

A number of different groups have been working towards developing Noise Maps for Perth, Sydney, and Melbourne. As a result, the Noise and Health Technical Working Group (TWG) was set up in January 2019, led by Rachel Tham at the Australian Catholic University. While we had planned to include a noise map for Melbourne in this plan, Rachel Tham and her team were already working on this and so we are combining our resources to produce a consistent method across the three cities. The noise map for Melbourne will be led by ACU, the Noise map for Sydney is a joint CAR/CAUL initiative, the Noise Map for Perth is a CAUL initiative, led by UWA.

Development of a Noise Model for Perth and Sydney –Continuing project

This year TWG has worked through a range of issues associated with the data inputs and development of noise models for Australia, Australian cities and sub-regions and we have developed a Noise and Health Work plan. We have reviewed the noise modelling frameworks and agreed that the Common Noise aSSessment methOds – Europe (CNOSSOS-EU) modelling framework is the most appropriate to translate and implement in the Australian setting. We have also been reviewing the data inputs and sources of these data.

Health Impact assessment of urban environmental exposures on health, with a sub analysis for Western Sydney

Quantification of the health impacts of future changes in air pollution (e.g.; the development of the third airport in Western Sydney) are important for informing state and commonwealth governments’ air pollution policy. In collaboration with CAR we will undertake health risk assessment of environmental exposures on health. The first project was a case study of road noise and ischemic heart disease mortality in Melbourne, Australia. The paper based upon this case study by Hanigan et al has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Health Geographics. In addition, a poster on mortality attributable to anthropogenic PM2:5 in Australia, 2010-2016 by Hanigan et al has been presented at the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology conference in Utrecht, August 2019. Further health impact assessment case studies will be undertaken.

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

Subprojects (Project 1)

Subproject 1.1 – Extending air quality measurement/monitoring capacity (complete)

Project leader: Clare Murphy, UoW

This subproject developed measurement capacity in collaboration with research partners. It extended the measurements available to evaluate air quality and test our air quality models via a number of complementary research activities.

Subproject 1.2 - Implementing state-of-the-science air quality modelling techniques for estimating human exposure to airborne pollutants (complete)

Project leader: Dr Elise-Andree Guerette, UoW

It is now well understood that, given the limitations of any particular air quality model, more reliable results are achieved with an ensemble of models. This subproject drew on the heritage of several groups to advance the reliability of modelling current and future air quality for Western Sydney.

Subproject 1.3 – Exploring potential measurement and modelling techniques for estimating human exposure to airborne pollutants (complete)

Project leader: Jane Heyworth, UWA

The ideal scale for measurements and modelling of air pollution is at the individual exposure level, since this is where the health impacts occur. This subproject responded to a natural community concern that modelling and measurement should capture what is actually happening to them.

Subproject 1.4 – Clean Air Plan for Western Sydney (complete)

Project leader: Peter Rayner, UoM

This subproject synthesised work on ambient air quality in Sydney and the work on indoor air quality to formulate a Clean Air Plan for Western Sydney.