Real-time air quality readings sharing has been found to reduce air pollution and lower mortality rates in developing nations, according to research co-led by The University of Queensland. The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The project, carried out in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University in the US, was inspired by real-time Twitter updates on air quality, according to Dr Andrea La Nauze from the School of Economics at the University of Queensland. “In 2008, the US Embassy in Beijing began tweeting hourly air quality information from a new pollution monitor, which dramatically increased attention to air pollution in China,” Dr La Nauze said.
“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 researchers compared the results with other non-OECD cities without embassy monitors by measuring air pollution levels before and after the US embassy in a city started tweeting air quality readings. They discovered that exchanging real-time data on air quality led to an annual decrease in fine particulate concentrations of 2-4 micrograms per cubic metre on average.
An air pollutant called fine particulate matter has been linked to serious health issues like heart disease and weakened lungs. According to the researchers, the annual health benefits of the median city’s reduced air pollution amount to AUD 171 million.
According to Dr. Akshaya Jha of Carnegie Mellon University, 90% of the world’s population is exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution, but monitoring isn’t always possible, especially in developing nations. “Poor air quality is a leading cause of premature death worldwide, responsible for one out of every 9 deaths,” Dr Jha said.
“Sharing credible air quality information can highlight this issue and have huge health and economic benefits that far outweigh the costs of the monitoring technology.” Dr La Nauze said 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 La Nauze said. “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 organisations worldwide should push for the rapid deployment of credible, real-time air quality monitoring and reporting.”