EPA Tasmania’s Air Section has been highly commended for its innovative statewide air quality monitoring program at this year’s Public Sector Excellence Awards.
The EPA’s Air Section received the award from the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) for its technological innovation in creating and establishing a network of automatic, low cost air quality monitoring stations across the State and its use of monitoring information to improve air pollution control programs. The award acknowledges the benefits of this work, which has led to improved knowledge and understanding of air pollution issues in Tasmania and has the potential to improve our air quality. The focus is on smoke from domestic heating and planned burning, which is a significant public health risk and which can also have impacts on tourism, viticulture and horticulture.
Currently, the EPA’s BLANkET network (Baseline Air Network of Tasmania) consists of 34 ‘fixed location’ air quality monitoring stations, which measure fine air particles along with meteorological data. The air quality data is reported in virtual real-time (every 15 minutes) to the EPA website, providing the EPA and other organisations with a valuable resource for managing human health and the environment. A mobile, car-based monitoring station known as Travel BLANkET has also been developed by the Air Section to enable localised testing for air pollution. This equipment has generated interest from other State EPAs and previously won an award for innovation from the Clean Air Society of Australia and New Zealand in 2014. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Asthma Foundation use the BLANkET data on their websites for health advisory purposes, and it also contributes to the collaborative ‘Air Rater’ Project. This is delivering a new smart phone app that will allow users to report air related health systems and be better prepared for periods of poor air quality.
The BLANkET stations, which measure air particle concentrations, can distinguish between smoke and dust, and have been useful for monitoring the effectiveness of the Coordinated Smoke Management System for planned burning operations. Travel BLANkET has also been used to identify communities, towns and suburbs with excessive levels of smoke pollution from domestic wood heating, enabling the EPA to target its wood heater education program ‘Burn Brighter this Winter’ in collaboration with Local Councils.
The Air Section’s monitoring group is led by Dr Bob Hyde (Air Section Head). Other team members are Dr John Innis, Andrew Cunningham, Ellis Cox, Andrew Smeal, Alex Bell and Nia Walter Ritchie. The commendation was presented to representatives of the group at the IPAA Awards function in December. The BLANkET data is displayed on this website as Real Time Air Quality Data for Tasmania.