It is well known that air pollution can be harmful to our health. Poor air quality can be caused by wood fired heaters, smoking, transportation and industry, as well as natural events like bush fires, dust storms, pollen and mould spores.

At the moment, air quality information is available using regional air quality stations across New South Wales.

But it is difficult to know what the air quality is like at a local level, and this can be impacted by weather, seasons and how close we are to industry and roads.

A new project funded by the Digital Restart Fund, as part of the Smart Places Acceleration Program, will help deploy sensors at a local level, so customers and governments can better understand local air quality in real time.

Dubbed OPENAIR, the Operational Network of Air Quality Impact Resources initiative brings together 15 local councils, the NSW Smart Sensing Network, industry and researchers from 5 leading universities.

The teams are working out a standard approach to deploying low-cost local sensors and collect the data generated. 

“In NSW we respond to air quality issues using air quality data provided by a network of 94 air quality monitoring stations operated by the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE),” Matthew Riley, Director of Climate and Atmospheric Science at DPE explains.

“While the quality of data from our state-wide monitoring network is great for monitoring the ambient air quality, we can improve localised air quality information for communities even further by adding indicative low-cost sensors to areas where we may not have stations.”

Landmark move to improve air quality

This program is the first of its kind in Australia and will ultimately enable governments, local communities and NSW customers to collect air quality data. 

We will be able to measure the impact of initiatives and policies designed to improve air quality and provide real time alerts when there is poor air quality, helping people with respiratory illnesses and asthma to stay well. 

Professor Jason Prior from the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures said OPENAIR’s collaborative approach is key to its success. 

“We are working with local councils and small businesses, and this means we will meet their needs, so we can get more local sensors on the ground.”

Professor Benjamin Eggleton, Co-Director of the NSW Smart Sensing Network added: “Our team will showcase best practices for using low-cost sensors to address big issues across the state, like bushfire smoke, coal dust and urban heat sensing.”

Rory Brown, Acting Executive Director Smart Places at Transport for NSW said the project was in its early stages, but was showing promise.

“We are proud that the NSW Smart Places Acceleration Program is funding projects like the OPENAIR initiative. It is another great example of technology and data solutions helping deliver great places and outcomes for people.”