For Immediate Release
30 January 2020

Air pollution monitoring app for asthma and allergy sufferers now available in South Australia and Queensland

But researchers say data is hard to come by in regional areas where permanent air monitoring stations don’t exist.

South Australians and Queenslanders who struggle with allergies and asthma can now access a leading app called AirRater that brings together live air quality and temperature data to help users manage symptoms on risky days.

Since December 2019, the number of people downloading AirRater shot up by 250% across the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales with air quality becoming a major public health concern due to bushfire smoke pollution.

Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman said AirRater was one of the best air pollution monitoring tools available and welcomed its expansion into South Australia and Queensland.

“You can trust the data set behind the app and that’s really important,” Ms Goldman said.

“People can use it to receive alerts on poor air quality days and map their health symptoms against the data. The app will generate personal alerts on risky days. For people with asthma and allergies, this information can make a massive difference to health outcomes.”

AirRater researcher Penelope Jones, a research fellow with the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research said the app accesses information from government monitors and BOM, but for many parts of regional and remote Australia the data didn’t exist.

“In areas not covered by air monitoring stations, we use advanced modelling techniques as a workaround to predict smoke pollution and other triggers. This allow us to provide a broad indication for these communities of whether air quality is likely to be good or poor. This is the best that technology will allow us to do – but it is much less precise than the information that we get from government monitoring stations,” she said.

Many communities outside metropolitan areas are without permanent air quality monitoring stations.

Ms Goldman said that asthma disproportionately affected regional and remote communities and more monitoring stations were a priority.

“As we’ve all just seen, bushfire smoke traverses large distances and high-risk groups including babies, pregnant women, over 65s and those with respiratory and heart conditions in regional and remote locations had no access to this life changing information.”

Asthma Australia has been calling on governments to provide consistent and real-time air quality monitoring data of small particulate matter (PM2.5) across Australia, noting that regional areas are black spots.

“Last year we saw the benefits of regional air quality monitoring in Tasmania, where small communities in the Huon Valley were able to access local smoke information during the January 2019 fires. Tasmania has an exceptional regional network of air quality monitoring, the best in Australia, so it’s not without precedent,” Ms Goldman said.

Similarly, she said they also hoped to see more pollen monitoring stations in key regional areas.

Dr Jones said the quality of air monitoring devices differed greatly and there were quite a few considerations to set one up.

“For an air quality monitoring station that meets national monitoring reference standards, it can cost over $100,000. Many of the air quality agencies now also use slightly cheaper, but still very accurate instruments, for specific purposes. These typically cost about $35,000 to set up – these can be a useful way to fill in the gaps in regional monitoring networks, as has been done in Tasmania, for example.”

“There are now many very low-cost air quality sensors coming on the market – some of which can be useful if deployed correctly, such as for specified pollutants in disaster situations, to meet short term monitoring needs.”

‘But it is important to be aware that the quality of these low cost sensors varies a lot, and they don’t manage mixed types of pollution very well – so citizen science monitoring using these types of sensors is not going to be a substitute for a good government network.”

AirRater is available for free on Google Play and the App Store and has been developed by the University of Tasmania and Menzies Institute for Medical Research with limited funding sources.

For more information about the app, visit https://airrater.org/