Air Quality, Pollution, and Health

Date: Wednesday 10 April 2024, 2.00PM
Location: University of Liverpool
Teaching Room G14
126 Mount Pleasant
Local Group Meeting

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The Royal Statistical Society’s Merseyside Local Group are pleased to announce our next event exploring innovative use of data and statistical models in addressing air pollution and its impacts on health.
Challenges to environmental sustainability are challenges to global health. In particular, high levels of air pollutants can have drastic consequences for human wellbeing. This event will feature talks on how to statistically monitor and use air quality data models effectively to inform better health protection, from lower- and middle-income countries to closer to home in Liverpool.

The event will take place on-campus at the University of Liverpool and will be freely available to watch live on our YouTube channel and will appear on the homepage when the event starts. Please register only if attending in-person so we can budget for refreshments.

The event will take place on Wednesday 10th April from 2pm in Teaching Room G14, 126 Mount Pleasant at the University of Liverpool (building 114 in square C4: and will also be available to watch live when the event starts on the Merseyside Local Group YouTube channel homepage:
Access to the event event is free and open to all, including students and non-university members. We ask in-person attendees to please register at,-pollution,-and-health/ so we can estimate numbers for provided free refreshments.
2.00 - 2.05 Welcome/Chair's introduction
2.05 - 2.30 Mr Paul Fawkesley (Climate Campaigner) – Campaigning with data
2.30 - 2.55 Dr Sepeedeh Saleh (University of Liverpool) – “PAMODZI” – A study of smoke in rural Malawi
2.55 - 3.00 Refreshment break
3.00 - 3.25 Dr Craig Anderson (University of Glasgow and RSS William Guy Lecturer) – Healthy lungs, healthy brains – the dual benefits of pollution monitoring in schools

3.25 - 3.30 Close
Dr Craig Anderson (University of Glasgow and RSS William Guy Lecturer) – Healthy lungs, healthy brains – the dual benefits of pollution monitoring in schools

A recent World Health Organisation report revealed that 99% of the world’s population breathes air which contains unsafe levels of pollution. Air pollution is linked to 40,000 premature deaths per year in the UK, leading to interventions such as the introduction of low emissions zones in many cities. Measuring the success of such interventions requires accurate and reliable modelling of pollution levels across the country, and traditionally this has been carried out using a national network of fixed air quality monitoring stations. In recent years, smaller portable monitors have been developed and are now widely used in a variety of settings such as bus stops, libraries and within schools, and data from these monitors can be used to enhance the quality of our pollution estimates.

This topic is the subject of my 2023/24 RSS William Guy Lecture for secondary schools, which aims to inspire children about the importance of statistics. Many of the schools I have visited have these portable monitors within classrooms, and it therefore provides a useful way of showing how data can shape their lives. In today’s talk, I will discuss the statistical challenges in finding a suitable model for fusing together data from the fixed sites and portable monitors, and also what we can learn from my experiences of communicating this methodology to children from a variety of age groups.

Paul Fawkesley (Climate Campaigner) – Campaigning with data

In May 2023 a tiny group of volunteers ran a city-wide election campaign on air pollution.
We combined data from multiple sources, worked around data quality issues and continuously tracked and tweaked the campaign.
In this talk I’ll show we turned the abstract concept of air pollution into something personal, relatable and - most importantly - actionable.

Dr Sepeedeh Saleh (University of Liverpool) – “PAMODZI” – A study of smoke in rural Malawi

Sepeedeh will talk about the air quality monitoring and other methods used in her PhD research on air pollution in Malawi.
Air pollution is recognised as a leading environmental risk factor, linked to 6.67 million deaths in 2019, especially through effects on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. In low-income countries such as Malawi, household air pollution – caused by the burning of solid fuels for cooking, lighting, and heating – continues to constitute a significant proportion of individuals’ air pollution exposures.

Sepeedeh’s research explored the issue of household air pollution in a village in Malawi, where existing evidence suggests high levels of household air pollution, but details of source apportionment are unclear. It also provided a deeper ethnographic understanding of air pollution, or ‘smoke’, in the Malawian village context to understand individuals’ lived experiences around ‘smoke’ itself.

The project involved ethnography in a rural village in Malawi including participant observations, individual interviews, and participatory workshops. Exposure to airborne particulates and carbon monoxide was assessed in parallel by personal monitoring of researchers and then village residents. Participatory methods were used to co-develop and trial a whole-village cleaner air intervention: supported introduction of locally made clay cookstoves across the village. We repeated both monitoring and participant observation to explore residents’ perceptions of the stoves and exposure impacts.

The project found high levels of personal exposure to airborne particulate matter and carbon monoxide in village residents, with cooking constituting the predominant exposure source. Detailed matched activity records confirmed cooking using biomass on a three-stone fire to be the cause of highest exposure concentrations. A counterintuitive finding of higher exposures during cooking in better ventilated spaces showed the value of first-person participant observation in understanding individuals’ daily exposures. Qualitative approaches revealed the complex ways in which scarcity, through limitation, daily hardship, and insecurity, influenced exposures in this setting. A mixed-method intervention evaluation affirmed that, whilst the cookstoves were not able to significantly reduce cooking-related exposures, they were associated with reduced exposures at baseline (during non-cooking periods). Cookstoves were well-received and almost exclusively used across the village as they met residents’ immediate needs.

In conclusion, residents of the village were exposed to very high levels of particulate matter and carbon monoxide, almost exclusively related to cooking activities. The context of scarcity was a core component of residents’ daily lives in rural Malawi, framing and driving individual air pollution exposures. Universal access to clean energy is a key requirement for individuals to live healthy lives, with potential interim steps including liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) distribution or electricity mini-grids. The combination of personal monitoring with qualitative research methods can provide valuable insights into individuals’ air pollution exposures and their surrounding experiences.

Please contact Alexandra Hunt (RSS Edinburgh Local Group Secretary) at