Improving Air Pollution Models to Protect Human Health

2018-04-02T17:37:10+00:00 July 6th, 2016|

If you had an app that showed the amount of air pollution around you. How might that impact your day?

What if you noticed another neighborhood seemed to consistently have poorer air quality than yours?

What if you could plan your bike route to be in the cleanest places?

Virginia Tech is collaborating on a huge new project to improve air pollution modelling including developing models with the capability to estimate concentrations in real-time. SPIA professor Steve Hankey will contribute to the project.

“Most models used in health effects studies of long-term air pollution exposure are static and show data at the granularity of an annual average concentration at a certain location,” he says. “We know air pollution changes depending on the season or time of day, so showing an average concentration has limited value for individuals who are interested in minimizing exposure.”

The project is called the Center for Air, Climate, and Energy Solutions, and it was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program in May. It provides $10 million over five years. Researchers from many universities and public health departments are bringing together their expertise across many disciplines. The project host is Carnegie Mellon University.

Hankey’s contribution to the project stems from his expertise and passion in measuring and modeling non-motorized traffic, as well as the health impacts of neighborhood design.

Research has shown that if you move one block off of a major street, that can reduce your exposure by 20-25 percent,” says Hankey. The small-scale patterns of air pollution may have implications for urban planners “for example, if you are designing bike lanes, you might put the bike lane on a street that is one block removed from a main street.”

The data for the project will come from EPA monitors, weather stations and traffic reports. The goal is to estimate concentrations at a 100 square meter resolution in urban areas. Better modelling could hopefully help the EPA be more nimble in protecting American’s lives.

“Traditionally the EPA refines standards based on health data – tracking disease and mortality,” says Hankey. “The new models we will develop will provide more real-time data for public dissemination as well as additional information for the EPA to consider when setting standards to protect human health.”

Other researchers on the project are from Brigham Young University, Health Canada, Imperial College London, Middlebury College, University of British Columbia, University of Minnesota, University of Texas at Austin and University of Washington.