CAUL Hub Project 7: Air quality in Australia project

Project Leader: Peter Rayner, The University of Melbourne

Project Summary

This project will 'nationalise' some of the learning from the Western Sydney air quality study. This is 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. 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 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. At the moment, we have chosen three aspects to investigate.

Subproject 7.1 - Traffic and Air Quality. Improving the National Pollutant Inventory

Project Leader: Hugh Forehead, University of Wollongong

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 The modelling of these is patchy and outdated.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.

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

Project Leader: Clare Murphy, University of Wollongong

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, University of Melbourne

Laundry products emit a range of VOCs, including hazardous air pollutants (e.g., formaldehyde) that have been linked to health risks such as asthma. Little is known, however, about emissions of these products from dryer vents, and the effectiveness of strategies to reduce risks. The aims of this study are:

  • To analyse and quantify VOC emissions from residential clothes dryer vents.
  • To compare emissions from use of fragranced and fragrance-free laundry products.
  • To evaluate strategies to reduce hazardous VOC emissions and indoor air pollutants.


  • Improved emissions baseline, leading to more cost-effective improvements in air quality (7.1)
  • Improvements in mitigation and responses to smoke pollution arising from improved knowledge of health effects (7.2)
  • Improved consumer advice on the use of domestic fragrance products (7.3)

CAUL Hub Project 1: Western Air-Shed and Particulate Study for Sydney (WASPSS) Project

Project Leader: Dr Clare Murphy (Paton-Walsh), University of Wollongong

Project Summary

This project will provide the tools and evidence to develop a Clean Air Plan for Western Sydney. Research activities will be focused around three main research aims each with their own subproject:

  1. Extend air quality measurement/monitoring capacity to support improved characterisation of air quality.
  2. Implement and validate state-of-the-science regional air quality modelling to assess major sources contributing to air pollution.
  3. Evaluate existing methods applied internationally and locally for estimating human exposure to airborne pollutants.
  4. Develop a Policy Options Paper for Clean Air in Western Sydney
The project will enable policy makers to estimate the benefits of different mitigation strategies to the future air quality in Western Sydney.

Project Description

The negative health impacts of airborne particulates on urban populations are now well established. The Western Air-Shed and Particulate Study for Sydney (WASPSS) project will contribute to the understanding of poor air-quality events within Western Sydney, by conducting targeted measurement campaigns which can supplement information from on-going air quality monitoring stations, to address specific knowledge gaps.

To predict spatial air pollution patterns and identify the best policies to reduce particulate matter, we need to apply robust and verified air quality modelling capability to identify areas of greatest potential health impact and to evaluate the outcomes of potential mitigation strategies. The project will build on existing modelling expertise and develop an ensemble approach that can be validated using new and existing atmospheric measurements. These validated models will then be used to better estimate individual exposure to air pollutants and for sensitivity studies to assess the impact of different policy decisions and infrastructure development scenarios.

The findings from this research will be summarised within the Policy Options Paper for Clean Air in Western Sydney to facilitate adoption of key recommendations by policy makers.

Subproject 1.1 - Extending air quality measurement/monitoring capacity

Subproject leader: Clare Murphy

In this project we will significantly develop our measurement capacity in collaboration with our research partners OEH, CSIRO and ANSTO. We will extend the measurements available to evaluate air quality and test our air quality models via a number of complementary research activities.

In the final year of this project, there will be a focus on legacy projects and leveraging the maximum benefits from the completed campaigns. To this end (contingent on final legal sign-off from the NSW education department), we will establish a new monitoring facility and citizen science program at Liverpool Girls High School in collaboration with NSW OEH that we expect to outlive the project by some years.

Our second major measurement focus will be on characterising the biogenic emissions from vegetation surrounding the Sydney basin. The measurement techniques and knowledge developed within this subproject will feed into efforts for a comprehensive understanding of the interplay between urban greening and air quality. We expect this sub-project to continue past the end of Project 1, within either Project 3 or 7.

Our remaining efforts within this sub-project will be the analysis and write-up of completed measurements and condensing the findings into an appropriate format to feed into the Policy Options Paper for Clean Air in Western Sydney.

Subproject 1.2 - Implementing state-of-the-science air quality modelling to assess particle pollution in Western Sydney

Subproject leader: Élise-Andrée Guérette

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 hence draws on the heritage of several groups to advance the reliability of modelling current and future air quality for Western Sydney.

We have built a team consisting of CAUL Hub partners, NSW OEH, NSW EPA and CSIRO, which leverages the unique capabilities of each group. Together we will continue to explore the results of the modelling intercomparison study to identify future improvements in the models. We are using the optimised ensemble to test the impact of different policy decisions and development scenarios.

The modelling intercomparison exercise has unearthed a number of issues with the main air quality modelling tools used to simulate atmospheric pollution in NSW. Most of these have now been ironed out and in this final year of the project we will finish the ensemble comparison and undertake some scenario modelling. The outputs from this research will inform the recommendations within the Clean Air Plan for Sydney.

Subproject 1.3 - Exploring potential measurement and modelling techniques for estimating human exposure to airborne pollutants

Subproject leader: Jane Heyworth

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 responds to a natural community concern that modelling and measurement should capture what is actually happening to them.

We will seek to extend the air quality modelling capabilities down to the level of predicting individual human exposure, and couple this with a measurement campaign that deploys a range of personal monitors to measure exposure levels to air pollutants in Western Sydney.

We will continue to work closely with Centre for Air pollution, energy and health Research (CAR) to evaluate the health impact of air pollution in Western Sydney and Australia more generally. CAR investigators have clearly established research links, including ethics approvals, to the 45 and up cohort study and we will continue to evaluate the health impacts of air pollutants within this cohort. The 45 and up study has recruited more than 252,000 men and women aged 45 years and over living in New South Wales, Australia, including 92,000 persons in the Sydney Metropolitan region and 38,000 persons in Western Sydney. Baseline data were collected between 2006 and 2009 and includes self-reported information on current health status, known risk factors and likely confounding factors, and potential mediators of risk. The 45 and Up baseline data have been linked to mortality, hospital admissions, and cancer data.

In 2017 we have investigated the impact of NO2 and PM2.5 on hospitalisations in NSW and a draft manuscript is under review by co-authors. In 2018 we will investigate other health outcomes such as respiratory and cancer outcomes.

In 2017 we have been developing improved models of exposure assessment and these will be used in our investigations of the health effects of pollutant exposure. In particular, we are developing a PM2.5 LUR model to estimate exposure across Australia.

We have also submitted a manuscript (and have responded to reviewers' comments) on a Bayesian blending approach to combining exposure data from various sources at various spatial and temporal scales.

Subproject 1.4 - Policy Options for Clean Air in Western Sydney

Subproject leader: Peter Rayner

This activity will synthesise work in other subprojects to suggest policy options for improving air quality in Western Sydney. Previously this was described as a Clean Air Plan. Much of the larger-scale planning has been achieved with the "Clean Air for NSW" and Clean Air Strategy for Sydney. We will produce a document addressing gaps in the policy or knowledge base with a particular interest in tools and approaches to support improved environmental decisions.

Expected Outcomes

  • Improved air quality modelling and assessment tools
  • Detailed chemical composition data from campaigns publicly available for testing of future model's ability to simulate the atmosphere
  • New monitoring and citizen programs running in Western Sydney
  • Improved knowledge of biogenic emissions
  • Tools for assessing personal exposure to PM2.5 that leverages the data coming from satellite instruments
  • A Clean Air Plan for Sydney


Ultimately this project will inform the management of air quality within Sydney and Australia more generally. Health impact studies will allow for cost-benefit analysis to determine the most effective strategies for improving air quality outcomes. Policy makers will need to implement those strategies for actual environmental gains to be made.