Real-time air quality data 'life saving'

25 October 2022

Research co-led by the University of Queensland has found sharing real-time air quality readings in developing countries can reduce air pollution and lead to lower mortality rates.

Portrait of Andrea La Nauze

Dr Andrea La Nauze from UQ’s School of Economics said the project, in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, was sparked by live air quality updates being posted to Twitter.

“In 2008, the US Embassy in Beijing began tweeting hourly air quality information from a new pollution monitor, which dramatically increased attention to air pollution in China,” Dr La Nauze said.

“US embassies now tweet live air quality readings in 38 non-OECD countries worldwide."

“We looked at 36 of those countries and found the sharing of real-time data increased local public interest in air quality and led to reduced air pollution levels."

The researchers used air pollution measurements taken from satellite data to evaluate levels before and after the US embassy in a city began tweeting air quality readings, and compared the results with other non-OECD cities without embassy monitors.

They found sharing real-time air quality information yielded an average reduction in fine particulate concentration levels of 2-4 micrograms per cubic metre each year.

Hazy city skyline with smog settling over it.

Fine particulate matter is an air pollutant that can cause serious health problems such as heart disease and reduced lung function.

The researchers estimate the reduction in air pollution for the median city was worth an annual A$171 million in health benefits.

Dr Akshaya Jha from Carnegie Mellon University said 90 percent of the global population is exposed to hazardous levels of air pollution, but monitoring — especially in developing countries — isn't always available.

“Poor air quality is a leading cause of premature death worldwide, responsible for one out of every 9 deaths," Dr Jha said.

"Sharing credible air quality information can highlight this issue and have huge health and economic benefits that far outweigh the costs of the monitoring technology."

Dr La Nauze said the World Health Organization last year found the state of air quality monitoring to be 'inadequate', particularly in less developed countries. 

"Around 30 per cent of countries had at least some form of monitoring by 2018, but that includes monitoring that is intermittent, only covers a small part of the country or isn't available publicly," Dr La Nauze said.

"Even Australia — where state governments monitor air quality and provide access to real-time data — could not benefit substantially from a denser monitoring network."

“Policymakers, diplomats and community organisations worldwide should push for the rapid deployment of credible, real-time air quality monitoring and reporting."

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Media: Dr Andrea La Nauze,, +61 (0)422 792 468; Alysha Hilevuo,, +61 (0)409 612 798.