On 5-6 July over 200 air quality researchers, policy makers, industry partners and civic sector groups who work across the atmospheric, health, social and building science disciplines met at the University of Birmingham.
The 2023 Clean Air Networks Conference hosted by seven networks funded under the UK Clean Air Strategic Priority Fund, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Air Quality Network and the UKRI Clean Air Champions.
Over the two days, delegates exchanged findings from the networks’ wide-ranging activities and cross-cutting themes, and identified the next steps for both indoor and outdoor air quality research and policy. In addition to the fascinating talks and fruitful guided discussions, there were plenty of opportunities for networking ensuring existing connections were strengthened and exciting new links were formed!
After a warm welcome to the University from Professor Adam Tickell, Vice Chancellor at the University of Birmingham, Professor Roy Harrison opened the conference on day one with the Martin Williams Memorial Lecture and Professor Anna Hansell opened the second day with the Paul Wilkinson Memorial lecture.
The first day then involved a series of talks and guided conversations outlining network activities under different themes, with an all-delegate cross-theme discussion session to close the day.
Air quality and Net Zero
This theme explored how current and future air quality interventions affect the net zero agenda and vice versa, in terms of direct emissions; increased/decreased energy use from using various indoor air quality improvement solutions which in turn will affect the GHG emissions related with energy production; increased air tightness of buildings and concerns over energy consumption which can lead to poor indoor air quality.
This theme also considered any new inadvertent pollutants from emerging technologies and behavioural change in response to the existing net zero agenda and climate resilience strategies.
Measurements, modelling and mechanisms
This theme discussed different methods of measuring and modelling pollutant emission and transport mechanisms through the indoor-outdoor continuum across different scales. It explored the challenges and opportunities for characterising and quantifying pollutants in the context of public health and wellbeing and highlighted the role of computational models and simulation tools in better understanding air flow, pollutant transport and exposure risk.
The range of air quality measurement campaigns which have been carried out across the networks were presented, and how they demonstrate different intervention options in diverse environments and conditions for a variety of groups (especially vulnerable groups) and stakeholders was highlighted.
Discussions included how we can better connect this data and knowledge to improve policy and air quality intervention strategies, the role of innovative technologies in the future of measurements and modelling, and the need for an updated pollutant sampling and analysis standardisation approach.
Health and inequalities
This theme considered the links between air quality data, human exposure, and physical and mental health data and how this linked understanding can be applied to wider societal inequalities.
Topics discussed and studies shared included specific pollutant exposure risks to vulnerable groups in different environments and the interventions needed to reduce these risks; general health impacts of different pollutants; the role of human behaviour on air quality; the availability and role of green and blue spaces to different demographic groups; methods of communicating the most promising intervention options to vulnerable groups.
Lived experience and public engagement
This theme focussed on the engagement and outreach activities that have been ongoing in the networks such as stakeholder and public engagement for targeted policy, industry and educational activities. Outputs showcased included citizen science based co-designed air quality studies, mitigation recommendations, raising-awareness campaigns, and educational and guidance material.
Delegates discussed how to effectively connect behavioural science understandings to pollutant source/exposure data, and the public perception of air quality intervention strategies.
The second day of the Clean Air Networks conference was dedicated to the strategic future direction for the air quality community. Topics covered included the future of indoor and outdoor air quality monitoring and facilities; the linkages needed to better evidence pollutant exposure and health; and the behavioural changes observed to date, and needed to ensure the success of air quality improvement interventions.
The conference then culminated with some talks and discussions around the key messages for policy, industry and public stakeholders. Consideration was given particularly to regulations, the environment and net zero, and practical solutions to deliver better air quality.
Conveniently, at the same time as the conference, the Environmental Audit Committee was collecting oral evidence for a short inquiry to establish the adequacy of current measures to promote and improve indoor and outdoor air quality. Many of the delegates present had submitted written evidence the weeks prior and some members of the community were involved with the oral evidence process.
It seemed the community were delighted to finally meet in person and there was enthusiasm to maintain the networks’ links and collaborations beyond the end of the funding period (August 2023). Plans are underway to make this happen so its not too late to join mailing lists, follow groups on twitter and get involved with the conversation!
· CleanAir4V identifies, develops, and evaluates robust solutions that reduce the impact of indoor air pollution on two vulnerable groups: children, and those with pre-existing conditions such as COPD. A multidisciplinary approach is taken focusing technological and behavioural intervention.
· BioAirNet takes a transdisciplinary approach to understand the complexity and connectivity among people, biological particulate matter (BioPM) exposure and health impacts across the indoor/outdoor continuum to inform interventions development, prioritisation and assessment of environmental and health interventions.
· The Future Urban Ventilation Network are developing a technical framework to enable a new integrated health evidenced approach to urban building design and technology innovation – The Breathing City. They are creating a strategy for a new holistic approach considering coupled indoor-outdoor flows in the context of current and future air quality challenges together with their impacts on thermal comfort, noise and energy use.
· HEICCAM is an innovation research network integrating interdisciplinary researchers and stakeholders to develop indoor and outdoor air quality solutions as we transition to a low carbon future. The network will build evidence on the consequences for exposure to air pollution of actions aimed at tackling climate change and poor air quality, with particular focus on the home environment.
· The National Physical Laboratory(NPL) is one of the Public Sector Research Establishment partners in the Clean Air Programme. NPL is providing metrology support across both the UKRI and Met Office research activities through collaboration with project partners. Metrology provides a measurement infrastructure which is stable over time, comparable between location, and coherent, allowing measurements of different properties using different methods to be combined.
· STFC Air Quality Network (SAQN) brings together research, industry and policy to address air quality challenges using the untapped potential of the Science & Technology Facilities Council. While not a member of the Clean Air Programme, SAQN’s complementary research area makes them a close collaborator of the networks.
· Tackling air pollution at school (TAPAS) is a multidisciplinary network designed to bring stakeholders together from across society to develop the research base to design and operate healthy schools now and in the future. Our aim is to build collaboration and discussion via our events programme, our working groups, our research fund, and by engaging directly with children, schools and parents.
· TRANSITION Clean Air Network seeks to deliver air quality and health benefits associated with the UK transition to a low-emission transport economy. The academic investigators and policy, public, commercial and not-for-profit sector partners will undertake joint research, to co-define indoor and outdoor air quality challenges and co-deliver innovative, evidence-based solutions.
Written by Dr Helen Freeman, FUVN Network Manager