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Australian and Chinese researchers clear the air on pollution problems

Top Australian and Chinese experts have teamed up to tackle the global problem of air pollution.

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is a driving force behind a new transnational research centre that is investigating the science of, and solutions to, all forms of air pollution.

The Australia-China Centre for Air Quality Science and Management was launched on Friday December 5 at Beijing’s Chinese Research Academy for Environmental Sciences (CRAES).

Among its founding directors is QUT’s Professor Lidia Morawska, an internationally renowned pollution expert with the Institute for Future Environments (IFE) and Institute for Health and Biomedical Innovation, who said air pollution was a large, complex and borderless problem.

“It already does immense damage to people and the environment, and that damage is expected to intensify as the populations, economies and cities of China and other developing countries expand over the coming decades,” she said.

“Pollutants from vehicles, factories and power plants, as well as airborne dust from deserts and exposed soil, cause or contribute to many health problems, especially cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as cancer.

“The health bill from these problems is significant for every country. In Australia, the cost equates to 9.4% of the country’s GDP, with about $5 billion of this spent on respiratory diseases alone.”
QUT has a strong air pollution research program through its World Health Organization-designated International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health. Led by Professor Morawska, the laboratory has contributed to all WHO global policy documents on this topic since 1996.

In addition, the QUT Biofuels Engine Research Facility plays a key role in examining the impact of new bio-based hydrocarbon fuels on emissions. Much of this work at QUT is led by Professor Zoran Ristovski who collaborates closely with Chinese colleagues in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

Professor Morawska said the new Australia-China collaboration would expand this research effort and enhance its impact on the real world, particularly in the Western Pacific region.

“There’s so much we still need to learn about the causes and effects of air pollution,” she said.

“We will study its different origins and scales and how it affects human health and the environment; we will develop new technologies and techniques to better monitor, prevent and mitigate air pollution.

“We’ll be participating in national and international policy discussions about air pollution to help governments find the most efficient and effective ways to control it.

“The centre will also nurture the next generation of Australian and Chinese scientists, developing the people and knowledge the world needs this century to beat the problem of air pollution.”

The centre is the culmination of years of discussions and collaborations between QUT and more than twenty universities and government agencies in Australia and China.

Executive Director of the IFE Professor Ian Mackinnon, who played a key role in planning the new centre, said the scale of the problem – more evident in China but equally of concern in many Western Pacific countries – demanded a massive international and interdisciplinary response from researchers and governments.

“The only way to address these problems effectively is through collaboration – between researchers from different disciplines and different countries and between universities, governments and industry,” he said.

“We need physicists, chemists, statisticians and modellers working with doctors, engineers and urban planners – and all of them talking to politicians and public servants.”

About the Australia-China Centre for Air Quality Science and Management

The inaugural directors are: Professor Lidia Morawska, QUT; Professor Fahe Chai, CRAES; Professor Chris Chao , Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. QUT’s Associate Professor Xiang-Yu (Janet) Hou, Director of Research Development in North Asia, also played a key role in planning and establishing the new centre.

Numerous other supporting organisations have been involved in setting the strategic direction of the Centre including: the World Health Organisation; the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection; Clean Air Asia; and the Queensland Department of Industry, Science, Innovation, Technology and the Arts.

The following organisations and government departments were represented at the centre’s December 5 launch: QUT; Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences; Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences; Tsinghua University; Peking University; East China University of Science and Technology; Fudan University; Hong Kong University; Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Hong Kong Polytechnic University; Hong Kong City University; CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research; The University of Sydney; The University of New South Wales.

About the QUT Institute for Future Environments

QUT’s IFE brings together researchers and students from across the fields of science, engineering, law, business, education and the creative industries to study our natural, built and virtual environments. The IFE’s mission is to generate knowledge, technology and practices that make our world more sustainable, secure and resilient.

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