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Dyson air quality backpacks track exposure of Australian children to air pollution in first case study of its kind

Students from six schools in Melbourne’s inner west will wear Dyson’s air quality backpack to capture pollution data on their daily school commute.

7 March 2023

Melbourne, 7 March 2023: Today, Deakin University and Dyson have announced a pioneering citizen science study measuring air pollution exposure for children on their commute to and from school. Based in Melbourne’s inner west, the students will wear Dyson’s air quality backpack to collect live air quality data on the move. The study, titled ‘Breathe Melbourne’, is in collaboration with the Victoria State Government and Dyson, and aims to empower children as air quality scientists, raising awareness and collecting valuable data to help tackle inner-city air pollution.

  • Over 300 children and 12 teachers across six schools will be given the air sensing backpack technology to carry to and from school for a period of five days. The collected data will be analysed by Deakin University researchers to understand how much pollution the children are exposed to and contributing factors. Participants will also complete a survey to identify how the study has impacted their understanding of air pollution while participating schools will have access to an optional air quality educational resource provided by the James Dyson Foundation (JDF). The JDF air quality teaching pack encourages students to work like real engineers to investigate the problem of air pollution around their school and evaluate existing solutions. 

Kate Lycett, Senior Research Fellow at the School of Psychology at Deakin University and Lead Researcher for Breathe Melbourne commented:

“Breathe Melbourne is a research project that aims to empower children as air quality scientists. As our future leaders, they will be faced with many complex problems including air pollution and its effects. We hope the project will nurture children’s scientific curiosity, improve our understanding of air pollution, and ultimately lead to behaviour and government policy changes to reduce exposure to air pollution in Melbourne’s inner west.”

Making the Invisible Visible

Re-working existing sensing technology used in Dyson air purifiers, Dyson’s air quality backpack is a portable air sensing device. With on-board sensors measuring PM2.5, PM10, NO₂, VOCs and CO₂, a battery pack and GPS, it collects air pollution data on the move. The backpack was initially developed by Dyson engineers for the Breathe London Wearables Study – a similar project in the UK in collaboration with King’s College London and the Greater London Authority. As a result of the study, 31 per cent of the children said they would change the way they commute to and from school to reduce their exposure to air pollution.

Matt Jennings, Category Director of Environmental Care at Dyson, said:

“Our engineers have used knowledge derived from years of experience and research in air cleaning technology to develop intelligent sensors, compact enough to fit in children’s backpacks. Following the success of the 2019 Breathe London Wearables study in the UK, we continue to see the benefit of using our air monitoring technology to make the invisible visible - highlighting air pollution exposure indoors, outdoors and on the move. We hope that Breathe Melbourne increases awareness about the problem of air pollution and educates individuals on how they can reduce their own daily exposure, while providing robust scientific evidence of the outdoor and indoor pollution we are exposed to every day”

Air Pollution in Melbourne’s Inner West

Due to its industrial history, proximity to the Port of Melbourne, and the high volume of diesel-fueled vehicles in the area, Melbourne’s inner west has higher air pollution levels than other areas in Melbourne1. It also has higher rates of emergency department presentations for childhood asthma compared to other areas2.

Professor Lou Irving, Director of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine and Director of Clinical Training at the Royal Melbourne Hospital explained:

“Air pollution is predicted by the World Health Organisation to be one of the greatest environmental risks to health3. That's because of the amount of poor air quality throughout the world, but also the diverse adverse health effects it can have. Melbourne’s inner west is a hotspot for active asthma in children, with a higher prevalence of asthma admissions and presentation than most other areas of Australia4. The Breathe Melbourne Study is very important because it focuses on a group of children who we know are already at risk because of poor air quality, and it’s aimed at helping to reduce the risk, as well as aiding the management of asthma symptoms."

The 2020 Inner West Air Quality Community Reference Group Report, commissioned by the Victorian Government, provided recommendations for reducing community exposure to air pollution in the inner west. Breathe Melbourne supports these recommendations by empowering children and their communities to learn about air pollution and act on it. Additionally, the data collected through the project will help to inform government policy by providing insight on pollution exposure in the area.

Dr. Martine Dennekamp, Deputy Chief Environmental Scientist for Environmental Public Health at the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) commented:

“There is no low level of air pollution that we know of that doesn’t have an impact. The latest estimates are that there are about 600 deaths that are attributable to PM2.5 pollution in Australia. The air quality backpacks are a great addition to what we’re already doing in Melbourne’s inner west with our stationary air quality monitors to tackle this issue. The Breathe Melbourne Study will allow us to understand what a child is exposed to over a day and this will help to inform policies to help reduce pollution in that area.”

In addition to the Breathe Melbourne study, two of the participating primary schools will be involved in the ‘Idle Off’ Pilot project which seeks to educate individuals on the risks of idling vehicles and encourage parents to turn off their engines when not using them, to help reduce air quality and improve student health. 

  • Jackie Green, Principal at Spotswood Primary School, one of the participating schools commented:

    “Spotswood Primary is excited to be a part of the Breathe Melbourne project! Living and learning close by to some of Melbourne’s busiest roads, it is important for us to understand more about the quality of the air in our local area. We are passionate to find out about choices we can make to have a positive impact on the air quality in our community and look after our health.”

    The primary schools will commence data collection in the coming months, with the findings due to be published later this year.

  • Student being shown a Dyson air purifier cut out

1 Air Pollution in Melbourne’s Inner West – Inner West Air Quality Community Reference Group.

2 Based upon data from Torrens University Australia (2020) Social Atlas of Australia: Victoria Local Government Areas (2016 ASGS).


4 Based upon data from Torrens University Australia (2020) Social Atlas of Australia: Victoria Local Government Areas (2016 ASGS).

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