Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK

Research to study health impact of air pollution on individuals

A crucial new project, designed to reveal the potentially devastating health impacts of air pollution on individuals, depending on their local environment, has received significant funding.

The pioneering new project, led by Professor Gavin Shaddick and Dr Karyn Morrissey at the University of Exeter, has received the funding as part of the Clean Air: Analysis & Solutions programme, funded through the UK Government’s Strategic Priorities Fund and led by the Met Office and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The project, which runs for three years, will be coordinated with experts from the University of Manchester and the Met Office, based in Exeter.

Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, and long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to chronic illness, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as lung cancer, leading to reduced life expectancy.

Most current methods for assessing exposures to air pollution tend to focus on a large areas, whether citywide, regionally or even nationally.

However, to fully understand the effects of air pollution on human health, there is a need to narrow this focus down to the individual level to both measure how pollution impacts each person directly, but also to measure the effectiveness of intervention actions.

For this new project, the research team will develop an innovative new modelling framework that combines data on both outdoor and indoor exposures to air pollution, travel patterns and the kind of activities that people perform every day.

The model will simulate the daily exposure of different population groups to air pollution and its accuracy will be evaluated against actual measurements made by group of volunteers who will carry portable pollution monitors.

Professor Shaddick, the Chair of Data Science and Statistics at the University of Exeter said:  “Traditionally, information on the health effects of air pollution has been based on assigning the average level of pollution across a city to peoples’ residential address to indicate the quality of the air that they breath.

“However, to obtain more conclusive evidence of the impacts of air pollution on individual people, we need more information on ‘personal exposures’ – the different levels of pollution that people will experience as they move between different places, or ‘micro-environments’ throughout the day.

To measure these personal exposures for a large number of people is both extremely costly and time-consuming.

“So, the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the University of Manchester, is developing an innovative Data Science and AI - led approach to quantifying personal exposures to air pollution, by combining data on daily travel patterns and other different activities with pollution data.

“This new approach will simulate the daily exposure of different groups to air pollution in their own micro-environments, so that we can better understand the impacts of air pollution, and the effects of interventions and policy changes, on individuals to be assessed within a virtual environment.”

Date: 9 April 2020