Something in the Air at NSW Schools

Schools to identify indoor and outdoor air pollution levels and teach practical ways to reduce it.
Sep 7, 2022
Research allows schools to breathe easier.

To expand awareness about clean air, Claremont College in Randwick, NSW participated in the CleanAir Schools pilot in 2021 where a combination of indoor and outdoor sensors was installed and maintained by CleanAir Schools project staff.

The $1.9 million program, developed by UNSW researchers, monitors air quality with world-leading, low-cost air quality sensors to help researchers map air quality as part of a broader program monitoring the changing environment.

Doug Thomas, Principal of Claremont College said, “Being able to monitor the quality of air at our school has been incredibly useful. We are keen to understand how best we can protect our children’s health during the next bushfire season.”

The CleanAir Schools program is being expanded from six to 100 NSW schools over the next two years so a more accurate picture of the environment that Australia’s children learn and play in can be formed.

The air quality sensors, and associated weather stations use calibrated sensors that can provide data at 5-minute intervals to measure particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature, and relative humidity.

UNSW Associate Professor Donna Green said, “Air quality has become a hot topic of conversation in recent years due to environmental factors such as the 2020 bushfires and hazard reduction burns. While our pilot program shows that generally we have good air quality inside and outside schools, expanding this program will enable us to develop guidance to schools on what to do during adverse events.”

The air quality sensors enable real-time access to local air quality. “Collecting accurate air quality data is an important first step. From this network of readings, we will be able to help design easy to implement policies that can improve air quality in schools,” Assoc Prof Green said.

CleanAir Schools will connect with a STEM educational program, from 2023 schools can participate in the ‘Energy Transformers’ program which helps to explain how their data from air quality monitoring connects to local and global energy and environment issues.

Energy Transformers, a solutions-focused approach to promoting STEM education is funded by the UNSW Digital Grid Futures Institute and will be rolled out as part of the upper primary curriculum.

“Energy Transformers explains the links between energy choices, climate change, air pollution and human health. The program uses air pollution as a tangible and novel way to explain the links between these issues to students who will grow up in a vastly different world than we know today.

“This program is designed to prepare children for a range of skills and exciting new employment options connected to Australia’s renewable energy transformation,” Assoc Prof Green said.

Sean Wihera, VP Business Development & Partnerships with Clarity Movement, who build the sensors said, "As with our other collaborations around the world, such as Breathe London and Los Angeles Unified School District’s Know Your Air Network, the CleanAir Schools program demonstrates the importance of accurate, localized air quality data in determining how we can best protect the health of our students and communities. Such data is key to identifying the most effective policies, investments and interventions to better manage our air quality – and to building synergies with broader decarbonisation initiatives such as the Energy Transformers program."

Image by Donald Tong