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Reducing Air Pollution With Real-Time Air Quality Readings

A new study co-led by The University of Queensland has discovered that sharing real-time air quality readings can help to decrease air pollution in developing countries and result in lower mortality rates.

Image Credit: STOK

Dr. Andrea La Nauze from UQ’s School of Economics stated that the project, in union with Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, was activated by live air quality updates posted to Twitter.

In 2008, the US Embassy in Beijing began tweeting hourly air quality information from a new pollution monitor, which dramatically increased attention on air pollution in China.

Dr. Andrea La Nauze, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

Nauze added, “US embassies now tweet live air quality readings in 38 non-OECD countries worldwide. We looked at 36 of those countries and found the sharing of real-time data increased local public interest in air quality and led to reduced air pollution levels.”

The scientists utilized air pollution measurements that were taken from satellite data to assess levels before and after the US embassy in a city started tweeting air quality readings and compared the outcomes with other non-OECD cities in the absence of embassy monitors.

They discovered that sharing real-time air quality information offered an average decrease in fine particulate concentration levels ranging from around 2 to 4 μg per cubic meter annually.

Fine particulate matter is an air pollutant that can result in serious health problems such as reduced lung function and heart disease.

The scientists estimate that the decrease in air pollution for the median city was worth $A171 million yearly in health benefits.

Dr. Akshaya Jha from Carnegie Mellon University stated that 90% of the global population is exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution. However, monitoring is not always available, particularly in developing countries.

Poor air quality is a leading cause of premature death worldwide, responsible for one out of every 9 deaths.

Dr. Akshaya Jha, Carnegie Mellon University

Dr. La Nauze stated that the World Health Organization last year found the state of air quality monitoring to be “inadequate”, particularly in less developed countries.

Around 30 per cent of countries had at least some form of monitoring by 2018, but that includes monitoring that is intermittent, only covers a small part of the country or isn’t available publicly.

Dr. Andrea La Nauze, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

Nauze continued, “Even Australia—where state governments monitor air quality and provide access to real-time data—could benefit substantially from a denser monitoring network.

Policymakers, diplomats, and community organizations worldwide should push for the rapid deployment of credible, real-time air quality monitoring and reporting,” added Nauze.


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