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Discuss about the Exploring Air Pollution Problems for a Focus on Brisbane.

Air pollution is explicitly acknowledged to be a substantial public health issue, responsible for an increasing range of environmental and health consequences. The health effects of air pollution are becoming a burden to healthcare systems. Air pollution is the presence of harmful substances in the air at concentrations that present a health threat. Common air pollutants are CO, SO2, PAHs and particulate matter, which may originate from different sources such as vehicle emissions, fossil fuel combustion, and biomass burning. (3, 18, 19)The smoke produced in closed spaces from cooking may also cause air pollution. Rapid urbanisation further increases the risk of exposure to ambient air pollutants. The rationale of this paper is to investigate how air pollution affects public health.

In this scholarly paper, a literature review was performed into the concept of air pollution, its causes, and impact on public health with a focus on Brisbane, Australia, which is the selected community. Recent peer-reviewed articles published between 2012 and 2017 were retrieved from MEDLINE and CINAHL Plus. The research questions are; what are the main air pollution problems in Brisbane, Australia? What are the key sources? Are they associated with other environmental issues? How does the air pollution affect public health?

A literature search was conducted using CINAHL Plus and MEDLINE as the two primary academic databases to investigate current knowledge on air pollution and public health. The search terms were air, pollution, problems, sources, environmental, issues, Brisbane and Australia. Boolean operators that were used to facilitate the literature search were AND and OR. The search mode was “find all my search” while the expander was “apply all related words”. Year of publication was used as a limiter in the literature search. It was performed for the years between 2012 and 2017. Source type was “all results”, and the language was English. The search criteria yielded several meta-analyses and systemic reviews, and many recent studies on the association between air pollution and public health. For instance, the search “air AND pollution AND Brisbane” yielded 124 results in MEDLINE and 723 results in CINAHL Plus. 20 articles were found to be relevant and included in this study.

The primary themes that were discerned from the pertinent articles were categorised into three, major air pollution sources, environmental issues and public health problems. These themes were appraised using the apposite literature.

Critical appraisal of the articles

Alharbi et al. (1) conduct a study to determine the concentration of thoron and radon in workplaces in Brisbane. Several workplaces were selected randomly around Brisbane, and active method was used to measure the level of radon and thoron concentration. Closed areas were found to have the highest concentrations of radon, 86.6 ± 6.0 Bq m−3. On the other hand, maximal thoron concentration was discovered in stores, 78.1 ± 14.0 Bq m−3.  The researchers found that the concentration of these gases was low during working hours and high after working hours due to the difference in ventilation. Besides, they unravelled that concrete flooring was a significant contributor of the radon and thoron in the environment.

Thai et al. (2) conducted a study to evaluate the level of exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in Brisbane and Hanoi. During the study, urine samples were tested from 16 candidates for ten weeks. The findings indicate that residents of Hanoi had higher exposure to PAHS than residents of Brisbane. However, the researchers concluded that air pollution was a major concern in the two settings.

In their study, Crilley et al. (3) aimed to identify the source of organic carbon (OC) as well as elemental carbon (EC) concentration in ambient PM 2.5 across urban learning institutions in Brisbane. Sampling was performed at 25 schools. The EC tracer method was applied to quantify the primary and secondary concentrations of OC. This study found that secondary organic aerosols (SOA), local weather conditions as well as vehicle emissions were the primary contributors of a carbonaceous component of PM 2.5 across urban learning institutions. Friend et al. (4) conducted a study to identify the significant sources of air pollution. They performed sampling in two different places in Brisbane. Ultrafine and fine particles were found in several locations, which are traffic sources and biomass burning. Their conclusion notes that traffic was the major source of air pollution.

Ezz et al. (5) did a study to determine the implications of both indoor and outdoor ultrafine particles on children health in Brisbane. Their main aim was to establish the link between respiratory diseases and ultrafine particles. 25 school campuses were randomly recruited to participate in this study. The respiratory health consequences were analysed through different tests such as spirometry, a fraction of exhaled nitric oxide (FOT) and multiple breath nitrogen washout test (MBNW). The author concluded that ultrafine particles are a leading cause of respiratory illnesses.

Major air pollutants

In his Meta-analysis study, Roberts (6) aimed to determine the mortality trends linked to air pollution (PM10) in Brisbane and Sydney, Australia. The author focused on the period between 1993 and 2007. In the findings, the author asserts that mortality has declined, PM10 is still a problem, and it is associated with cardiovascular deaths. 

Bowatte et al. (7) used a longitudinal study to investigate whether subjection to traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) is linked to asthma, allergies and impaired lung function. Regression models were used to quantify the level of exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The results insinuate that living close to major roads exposes individuals to TRAP, which increases the risk of current wheeze, atopy, asthma, allergic outcomes and other lung complications. 

Barnett et al. (8) performed a study using a Bayesian hierarchical model to establish the link between exposure to air pollutants and health outcomes in Brisbane, Australia. Subjection to air pollution was linked to negative health effects including hospitalisation and deaths. This finding indicates that people who are exposed to air pollutants to a certain level are likely to experience poor health outcomes. A similar study was done by Cohen et al. (9); however, their study focused on a global landscape. Their study was based on the foundation that subjection to ambient air pollution results in high morbidity and mortality. They discovered that exposure to ambient PM2-5 was a leading cause of deaths because it increased the risk of (COPD). Berend’s (10) study on the health impacts of air pollution also concluded that COPD is a serious problem. In a related study, Brauer et al. (11) used ground measurement, satellite-based estimate and chemical transport model simulation to evaluate the extent to which ambient air pollution increases global disease burden. Over five years, they found that ambient air pollution increases the global disease burden. Narasimhan et al. (12) evaluated the available literature to determine the risk factors for tuberculosis. The analysis revealed that there are numerous risk factors for tuberculosis. Among the most important risk factors was indoor air pollution.

Another primary study was designed to analyse the impact of temperature and air pollution on the prevalence of pediatric influenza. In this study, four Poisson log-linear regression model and the number of influenza cases were applied to investigate the impact of PM10, N02 and O3 as well as temperature on pediatric influenza. The study found that high levels of 03, NO2 and PM10 resulted in high prevalence of pediatric influenza in Brisbane. (13) The authors conclude that air pollution is a key predictor of pediatric influenza. Wang et al. (14) did a study to appraise the relationship between air pollution, temperature and mortality in Brisbane. Scanning Mobility Particle Sizer was utilised to measure particle size while the other data on air pollution was obtained from government agencies. They unravelled that the air temperature tends to increase mortality for those with respiratory infections. Their findings insinuate that air temperature enhances the negative impacts of air pollution.

Public health problems

Straney et al. (15) did a study to explore the link between air pollution and the prevalence of Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA). In their research, the authors used St John’s Ambulance data. They focused on these air pollutants O3, NO2, SO2 and CO. The relationship between the pollutants and OHCA was determined based on the number of reported cases. They found that carbon monoxide and PM2.5 were linked to the high prevalence of OHCA. 

Evidence suggests that the ambient air pollution is major disease burden. Nevertheless, one longitudinal study on female health found that ambient air pollution was not related to self-reported disease in Australia. 26,991 females were recruited in this study. The researchers recorded the self-reported cases of cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes and respiratory illnesses. (16) Kelly et al. (17) analysed available literature to establish the link between air pollution and health. They discovered that most people mainly in urban centres breathe air that does not meet World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, which is a threat to public health.

In a second study Crilley et al. (18) implanted Aerodyne compact time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer (TOF-AMS) to measure the level of organic aerosol (OA), specifically vehicle emissions and human activity in 5 urban schools across Brisbane. They found a varying concentration of OA in the selected schools. The sources of OA were mainly vehicle emissions, gardening equipment and biomass burning. In conclusion, the authors noted that children are exposed to more OA during drop-off and pick-up times. Johnston et al. (19) investigated the impact of combustion emission on human health over time. Their study focuses on environmental issues such as fossil fuel combustion, domestic fires and landscape fires. Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data was used to facilitate the study. The findings show that air pollution associated with human actions has a fundamental effect on health. One recent study assessed the impact of reducing air pollution associated with biomass smoke on mortality. The study included about 215,000 Australians. The randomised controlled trial offered education on the reduction of ambient pollution. Outcomes were measured as changes in cause of respiratory and cardiovascular mortality for 6.5 years. (20) There was a decline in the number of deaths linked to ambient air pollution, which indicates that environmental issues are important in predicting the relationship between air pollution and public health.

Air pollution is a significant problem in Brisbane, Australia. The primary issues of air pollution in this community can be classified into health effects, learning effects and urban living effects. Evidently, air pollution affects the health the people in this community adversely since they are at the risk of developing chronic and non-chronic diseases such as respiratory diseases and lung cancer. Empirical evidence suggests that residents who are located in proximity to roads in Brisbane are exposed to ambient air pollution (16), and organic aerosol (OA). (18) These people are likely to be exposed to harmful gasses such as NO2 and CO, which further affects their health.  In construction works, workers may be exposed to radon and thoron. (1) It has been found that living about 200 metres from major roads is linked to current wheeze. (7) Air pollution further causes a problem in learning. At school, children are exposed to ultrafine particles (5), organic carbon (OC), and elemental carbon (EC) (3), which tend to affect learning activities. This evidence insinuates that air pollution is a serious ongoing issue in Brisbane.

Various sources of air pollution have been characterised in the selected community. Most of the studies in this field tend to agree that human actions are the major causes of air pollution in Brisbane, Australia. The main air pollutants in Brisbane are O3, CO, NO2, SO2, and particulate matter (PM). Vehicle emission is the most important source of air pollution. (18) Other studies use the term traffic to refer to vehicle emissions. (10) School going children and adults are exposed to vehicle emissions, which makes it a significant source of air pollution. Biomass burning is also a major contributor of air pollutants in Brisbane. A vast literature exists on the contribution of biomass burning to air pollution. (20) Gardening activities are also key sources of air pollution, especially when farm machinery is used. This aspect points to the use of fossil fuels for enabling the economies. Some of these sources tend to have a marginal contribution to the gross pollution in the air. However, the aggregate consequence of different sources is disastrous.

As evident in the literature review, air pollution in Brisbane is related to other environmental issues. The ambient air pollutants figure into several other environmental issues. It is notable that fossil fuel combustion generates ambient air pollutants as well as greenhouse gases. (19) Greenhouse gases including CO2 and CH4 contribute to global warming. In fact, researchers tend to study the effect of both temperature and air pollution on the environment. Particulate matter concentration has been found to have profound effects on temperature. (14) Some air pollutants tend to co-occur, and this aspect buttresses the relationship.

The ultimate effect of air pollution on public health is to causes diseases and mortality. There is strong evidence that air pollution is a leading cause of diseases as well as mortality in Brisbane. Air pollution is linked to several harmful cardiovascular as well as respiratory effects. Airborne particulates are responsible for cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. (10) Ultrafine particles cause health effects because they can penetrate into the lungs and result in damages. (5) Air pollution further presents the risks of atopy, asthma, allergic outcomes and atopic asthma. (7) Research has also found that air pollution leads to heart diseases, cerebrovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). (9) O3 impacts the lungs by leading to the inflammation of the airways as well as reducing lung function. Additionally, breathing O3 can cause different health problems such as congestion, throat irritation and chest pain. Although some of these illnesses are primarily caused by air pollution, others are secondary illnesses. The health conditions caused or exacerbated by air pollution might also be caused by other risk factors. As such, some health conditions prompted by air pollution may not be discerned directly as having been caused by air pollution. Mortality is another public health problem that is linked to air pollution. Most deaths are associated with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. (20) Morbidity is a public health issue linked to air pollution.


This study made it possible to deduce denouements from independent outcomes of each study appraised, establishing coherent data that can be utilized for designing public guidelines. In addition, the findings of this study can be used to inform policies on air pollution control in urban schools. The paper showed that air pollution presents a significant problem to the public health in Brisbane, Australia. Air pollutants across this community tend to occur in levels that result in harm to the residents. In this case, harm refers to morbidity and mortality. Cardiovascular and respiratory are the most common illnesses related to air pollution, and they are the leading causes of deaths. Conclusively, a holistic approach is required to address the problems of air pollution in Brisbane, Australia.  

The author certifies that they have NO affiliation with any organization or entity with any financial interest or non-financial interest in the topic explored in this manuscript.

References List

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Thai P, Li Z, Sjödin A, Fox A, Diep N, Binh T, et al. Biomonitoring of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons exposure in small groups of residents in Brisbane, Australia and Hanoi, Vietnam, and those travelling between the two cities. Chermosphere. 2015; 139: p. 358-364.

Crilley L, Ayoko G, Mazaheri M, Morawska L. Factors influencing the outdoor concentration of carbonaceous aerosols at urban schools in Brisbane, Australia: Implications for children's exposure. Environmental Pollution. 2016;(208): p. 249-255.

Friend A, Ayoko G, Jayaratne E, Jamriska M, Hopke P, Morawska L. Source apportionment of ultrafine and fine particle concentrations in Brisbane, Australia. Environmental Science And Pollution Research International. 2011; 19(7): p. 2942-2950.

Ezz W, Mazaheri M, Robinson P, Johnson G, Clifford S, He C, et al. Ultrafine particles from traffic emissions and children’s health (Uptech) in Brisbane, Queensland (Australia): Study design and implementation. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015; 12(2): p. 1687-1702.

Rberts S. Have the short-term mortality effects of particulate matter air pollution changed in Australia over the period 1993-2007. Environmental Pollution (Barking, Essex: 1987). 2013; 182: p. 9-14.

Bowatte G, Lodge C, Knibbs L, Lowe A, Erbas B, Dennekamp M, et al. Traffic-related air pollution exposure is associated with allergic sensitization, asthma, and poor lung function in middle age. The journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2017; 139(1): p. 122-129.

Barnett A, Clements A, Vaneckova P. Estimating the effects of environmental exposures using a weighted mean of monitoring stations. Spatial And Spatio-Temporal Epidemiology. 2012; 3(3): p. 225-234.

Cohen A, Brauer M, Burnett R, Anderson H, Frostad J, Estep K, et al. Estimates and 25-year trends of the global burden of disease attributes to ambient air pollution: an analysis of data from the global burden of disease study 2015. Lancet (London, England). 2015; 389(10082): p. 1907-1918.

Berend N. Contribution of air pollution to COPD and small airway dysfunction. Respirology. 2016; 21(2): p. 237-244.

Brauer M, Freedman G, Frostad J, van Donkelaar A, Martin R, Dentener F, et al. Ambient Air Pollution Exposure Estimation for Global Burden of Disease. Environmental Science & Technology. 2013; 50(1): p. 79-88.

Narasimhan P, Wood J, Macintyre C, Mathai D. Risk factors for tuberculosis. Pulmonary Medicine. 2013;: p. 828939.

Xu Z, Hu W, Williams G, Clements A, Kan H, Tong S. Air pollution, temperature and pediatric influenza in Brisbane, Australia. Environment International. 2013; 59: p. 384-388.

Wang L, Tong S, Toloo G, Yu W. Submicrometer particles and their effects on the association between air temperature and mortality in Brisbane, Australia. Environmental Research. 2014; 128: p. 70-77.

Straney L, Finn J, Dennekamp M, Bremner A, Tonkin A, Jacobs I. Evaluating the impact of air pollution on the incidence of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in the Perth Metropolitan Region: 2000-2010. Journal Of Epidemiology And Community Health. 2014; 68(1): p. 6-12.

Lazarevic N, Dobson A, Barnett A, Knibbs L. Long-term ambient air pollution exposure and self-reported morbidity in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. 2015; 5(10): p. e008714.

Kelly F, Fussell J. Air pollution and public health: emerging hazards and improved understanding of risk. Environmental Geochemistry And Health. 2015; 37(4): p. 631-649.

Crilley L, Ayoko G, Jayaratne E, Salimi F, Morawska L. Aerosol mass spectrometric analysis of the chemical composition of non-refractory PM(1) samples from school environments in Brisbane, Australia. The Science Of The Total Environment. 2013; 458-460: p. 81-89.

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Johnston F, Hanigan I, Henderson S, Morgan G. Evaluation of interventions to reduce air pollution from biomass smoke on mortality in Launceston, Australia: retrospective analysis of daily mortality, 1994-2007. BMJ. 2013; 346: p. e8446.

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