Air pollution can come from many sources. One of the most important pollutants is airborne particulate matter. Particles can be produced by burning fossil fuels, wood or vegetation, or can be naturally occurring such as wind-blown soil and dust. Bushfires, burn-offs and wood heaters are major sources of particulate air pollution in both Tasmania and the ACT and can be an important health hazard for many people in the community. Increases in the concentration of airborne particulate matter can trigger conditions like asthma, and make other lung and heart conditions worse. In large populations, particulate air pollution is linked to increases in ambulance call outs, hospital admissions and deaths.
In Tasmania, air pollution is tracked through the Base Line Air Network of EPA Tasmania, also known as the BLANkET network, while in the ACT AirRater uses data measured by the air monitoring network of ACT Health. These networks update air quality information to web based servers in near real-time. AirRater uses this data alongside statistical modelling techniques to determine likely particle concentrations across all areas of Tasmania and the ACT.
AirRater reports concentrations particulate matter 2.5 millionths of a metre in diameter or smaller, known as PM2.5. Particles can also be measured as PM10, meaning all particles with a diameter of up to 10 millionths of a metre. By definition, a measurement of PM10 will also include PM2.5 particles.
Extremes of temperature, both hot and cold, can be a health hazard for many people. Extreme heat is linked to illness and death, particularly for vulnerable people such as the elderly, the very young and those with existing health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Extremes of cold, or sudden drops in temperature, are also linked with increases in asthma.
All Australian states have both cold and hot spells, and these often happen quickly and with little warning. The AirRater app uses the same methodology as the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s Heatwave Service to determine when, where and how severe a forecast heatwave will be. Notifications will be sent to you in the heatwave affected area, giving prior warning of the conditions and allowing preparations to be made to cope with the heatwave. Similarly, a forecast extreme cold spell will be notified to you in the affected area.
Research has shown that Australia is likely to see an increased number of warmer days and an increased number of heatwaves into the future. For more information on preparing for and coping with heatwaves, visit the Bureau of Meteorology’s Heatwave Service website, and go to the ‘Useful Links’ section for heatwave information for your region.
Pollen is measured using a network of monitors across Tasmania and the ACT. We have six monitors in Tasmania - at Sandy Bay, Mornington, Launceston, Devonport, Campbell Town and Lake St Clair – and one at the Australian National University in the ACT. These monitors capture the airborne pollen on a sticky surface, which is then 'read' under a microscope. This involves identifying the pollen grains present on the slide, and counting the number of each species. AirRater's pollen labs can identify over 25 different species, with the most common allergenic pollen types being listed on the app.
Pollen is very seasonal with both the total amount of pollen and the types of pollen present changing through the year. For example, in south-eastern Australia, total pollen peaks from early spring through to early summer, but changes from mainly European tree pollen at the season’s start to much more grass pollen as the season moves on. Both the total amount and the species are important for understanding your allergies, because not everyone reacts to the same types of pollen in the air. For this reason you might react strongly to high pollen counts at some times of the year but not others. AirRater's trigger lab provides one way you can track your allergy symptoms, and start to understand what you might be reacting to, and when.