We need to know how much pollution is in the air we breathe to understand its impacts on our health and inform what steps we need to take to reduce its harmful effects. Our exposure to air pollution can vary, according to where we live, how ventilated our homes are, and our daily routine.

The Data Integration Model for Exposure Modelling (DIMEX-UK) project, part of the SPF Clean Air programme, has used a computer simulation approach to get more insight into how much air pollution we are exposed to during a typical day.

A new framework for estimating personal exposure to air pollution

The DIMEX-UK framework combines data on people’s normal travel patterns and activities with measurements and models of air pollution to simulate the everyday exposures of different people and vulnerable groups, for example children, the elderly and people with existing health conditions. The framework provides a quantitative assessment of air pollution exposure at an individual level, both indoors and outdoors. We may overlook indoor air pollution, but it can play an important role in our exposure to harmful pollutants and thus can make a significant contribution to ill health.
The project team have made the framework publicly accessible and released tools to quantify variations in exposures between different groups, and to assess exposure patterns over different locations and times. The project gives businesses the opportunity to better understand how air pollution can impact people’s health in different ‘micro-environments’ such as at home, in a car and at work. Various stakeholders were involved in the project, including Defra, the Department for Transport, Manchester City Council and Transport for Greater Manchester.

Key findings to help improve air quality

The team used the framework to examine the impact of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, on human health. Exposure can result in serious impacts to our health, especially in vulnerable groups of people such as the young, elderly, and those with respiratory problems. Case studies for Devon and Manchester produced the following key findings:
• What activities we do and where can have a significant impact on our exposure to air pollution, as well as our age and gender, with clear differences in activities, and the location of activities, across age groups and genders.
• Air quality varies substantially across regions. This means denser, better targeted networks of air pollution sensors are needed to provide more effective data in each of these regions. The use of additional monitoring in this project provided new insights into the effectiveness of measures intended to reduce exposure.
• Current air quality guidelines focus on ambient air pollution, but pollutant concentrations can vary considerably across different micro-environments, such as on public transport or within people’s homes. As the majority of people spend most of their time indoors, DIMEX-UK demonstrates the importance of indoor, specifically residential, air quality as an important exposure route for public health policy, and thus a need for greater understanding of air pollutants in the home.
Professor Gavin Shaddick of Royal Holloway, University of London and The Alan Turing Institute said, “DIMEX-UK provides an important new tool for understanding differences between the exposures experienced by individuals. This is crucial for informing policy decisions to reduce the adverse effects on health, especially on the most vulnerable, and developing new technologies to help tackle this critically important problem that effects everyone’s health and well-being.”

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