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
Who will benefit
Policymakers, epidemiologists, and public sector agencies

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 standardised 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 was then used in exposure models that accommodate predictors from: 

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

These exposure data were 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 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
  • The University of Sydney
  • NSW Department of Planning Infrastructure and Environment
  • Environmental Protection Authority Victoria
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  • The University of Queensland
  • Monash University
  • NHMRC Centre for Safe Air (CSA)

Outcomes

The project will deliver:

Mortality data

Monthly age-specific mortality data at local government area levels and annual mortality data from the National Mortality Database (NMD) is included in the CARDAT database along with corresponding air pollution estimates. The team is working with AIHW to develop new access, request, approval procedures to enable CARDAT to provide this highly sensitive data.

Publications

During the project several peer-reviewed papers were published. The Air-Health data team facilitated data sharing and in translating the HIA methodology to be applied in a standardised way using Australian data for air pollution policy relevant control scenarios.  The methods/ R code used to develop this work was refined in the ARDC funded project. The tools can now be available to other health/environment agencies to do similar research translation/ policy development work in their respective jurisdictions.

  • Heather R. Stevens, Petra L. Graham, Paul J. Beggs & Ivan C. Hanigan  (2023) No retreat from the heat: temperature-related risk of violent assault is increased by being inside. https://doi.org/10.1080/12265934.2023.2209544 
  • Chaston TB, Broome R, Cooper N, Duck G, Geromboux C, Guo Y, Ji F, Perkins-Kirkpatrick S, Zhang Y, Dissanayake GS, Morgan GG, Hanigan IC. Mortality burden of heatwaves in Sydney Australia is exacerbated by the urban heat island and climate change: can tree cover help mitigate the health impacts? Atmosphere 2022, 13(5), 714; https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos13050714 
  • Sadeghi M, Chaston T, Hanigan I, de Dear R, Santamouris M, Jalaludin B, Morgan GG. The health benefits of greening strategies to cool urban environments – A Heat Health Impact method. Building and Environment, Building and Environment. Online 19 November 2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2021.108546 
  • Mazaheri M, Scorgie Y, Broome RA, Morgan GG, Jalaludin B, Riley ML. Monetising Air Pollution Benefits of Clean Energy Requires Locally Specific Information. Energies 2021, 14, 7622. https://doi.org/10.3390/en14227622 
  • Robinson D, Horsley J, Johnston F, Morgan G. The effects on mortality and the associated financial costs of wood-heater pollution in a regional Australian City. Medical Journal of Australia, 2021; 215 (6): 269-272. https://doi.org/10.5694/mja2.51199 
  • Nguyen HD, Azzi M, White S, Salter D, Trieu T, Morgan G, Rahman M, Watt S, Riley M, Chang L, Barthelemy X, Fuchs D, Lieschke K, Nguyen H. The Summer 2019–2020 Wildfires in East Coast Australia and Their Impacts on Air Quality and Health in New South Wales, Australia. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2021, 18(7):3538. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18073538 
  • Aragnou E, Watt S, Nguyen Duc H, Cheeseman C, Riley M, Leys J, White, Salter D, Azzi M, Chang L, Morgan G, Hanigan I. Dust transport from inland Australia and its impact on air quality and health on the eastern coast of Australia during the February 2019 dust storm. Atmosphere. 2021, 12(2):141; https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos12020141

Key Resources

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