Integrated National Air Pollution and Health Data

Consolidating air pollution and health data to inform economic and environmental policy changes.
The skyline of a city in smog at dawn or dusk
Project
Integrated National Air Pollution and Health Data
Project lead
Curtin University
Who will benefit
Policymakers, epidemiologists, and public sector agencies

Timeframe

February 2021 to March 2023

Current Phase

In progress

ARDC Co-investment

$333,961

The Challenge

Air pollution threatens human health globally, and a big part of it is caused by humans. In cities across Australia, anthropogenic air pollution comes from energy use and transport infrastructure. Air pollution also comes from the landscape. For example, fires and dust cause air pollution, and we are seeing more of these with droughts getting longer and more severe due to climate change. Even at a low level, it is detrimental to public health. To tackle it, public efforts in such areas as cutting emissions have to be coordinated.

To inform policy changes, epidemiologists and public sector agencies need integrated air pollution and health datasets, ideally at the national level. But with air pollution reporting standards differing from state to state and privacy restrictions on public health data, integrating the datasets is no easy task.

The Response

This project will standardise data inputs from all air pollution monitoring stations in Australia. It will build a database containing all historical and current observations, including those for particulate matter of 2.5 µm (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), sulphates (SO2), ozone (O3) and ultrafine particles (UFP).

To estimate exposures at high spatial and temporal resolutions, this data will then be used in exposure models that accommodate predictors from: 

  • atmospheric chemistry modelling 
  • satellite, weather and traffic observations 
  • land use and vegetation data. 

These exposure data will be combined with age- and cause-specific mortality in sufficiently populated areas.

The 4 main aspects of the project are:

The project will compile and curate all historical and current air pollution observations at fixed site monitors managed by state and territory government agencies. To ensure the data is of high quality, these agencies will perform quality assurance or control protocols on their measurements and will keep feeding these quality-controlled observations into the Centre for Air pollution, energy and health Research Data and Analysis Technology (CARDAT) database.

The project will collate all air pollution and related geospatial datasets and tools into an online research environment on the national research cloud. Datasets to be curated include: 

  • satellite-based air pollution estimates
  • chemical transport modelling
  • position, elevation and distance from the coast
  • land use, land cover and surface areas of tree cover
  • water and impervious surfaces
  • emission sources including landscape fires, roads, wood heaters and point source emissions
  • population and dwelling density
  • weather/climate records.

The pollution modelling will use datasets for pollutant concentrations, emissions, and geographical predictors. These datasets will be augmented with near real-time satellite data to support case scenarios that require mapping of air pollution almost as it happens.

Provided that it does not lead to identification of the deaths, the project will clean and disaggregate age-specific mortality data down to the local government area or the statistical area 2 level. International classification of diseases (ICD) codes will be applied with care to balance privacy and utility. Updated data will be loaded annually into the integrated air pollution and health database.

Who Will Benefit

This project will benefit:

  • researchers
  • research organisations
  • public sector agencies
  • government (state and Commonwealth)
  • polluting industries.

With access to linked pollution and health datasets, polluting mining and industrial operations will be able to estimate the health impacts of their activities in various pollution mitigation scenarios. The proposed data asset will be made available to all relevant industries to keep them informed about the cost benefits of emissions reductions. 

Government agencies, on the other hand, are required to regulate emissions from industry and weigh these against economic development, employment, and productivity. We recently demonstrated that anthropogenic PM2.5 results in about 2,600 premature deaths annually in Australia with a cost of $6.1 billion based on the value of a statistical life year. The linked datasets will facilitate these calculations at all spatial scales in Australia and inform the government’s economic and environmental policies. 

Socially, the evidence generated by public and research organisations’ use of the data will raise awareness of the health as well as environmental risks of continued intensive use of motor vehicles.

Partners

  • Curtin University
  • NSW Department of Planning Infrastructure and Environment
  • Environmental Protection Authority Victoria
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  • The University of Queensland
  • Monash University

Target Outcomes

The project will deliver:

A national database of high-quality air pollution data

Measurements from monitoring stations across the country will be cleaned and consolidated into a complete database of all measurements ever taken from currently operating monitoring stations in Australia

Mortality data

Monthly age-specific mortality data at local government area levels and annual mortality data from the National Mortality Database (NMD) will be included in the CARDAT database along with corresponding air pollution estimates

Easy data sharing and reproducible data analysis

Access to these combined air pollution and mortality datasets will be improved with the help of CARDAT, which enables collaboration between researchers and policy makers.

Key Resources

For more information, visit: 

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