University of Melbourne and University of Tasmania to establish Australia’s first national air quality and pollen service

Grass pollen image
The new service will be a single, trusted source of information on multiple environmental health hazards

The University of Melbourne and the University of Tasmania today announced their investment into the newly established start-up “AirHealth”, the first integrated, Australia-wide service that will provide access to real time, location specific air quality information for the millions of Australians sensitive to air hazards such as pollen, pollution and bushfire smoke.

Pre-seed funding provided by each institution will be used to merge the University of Melbourne’s Pollen Forecast Service with the University of Tasmania’s AirRater service to create the new AirHealth entity. The merged service will be a single, trusted source of information on multiple environmental health hazards, including current and forecasted pollen levels, air pollution and thunderstorm asthma. It will also provide personalised and timely notifications for app users at their current location.

The University of Melbourne’s Pollen Forecast suite of apps have provided daily counts and forecasts of grass pollen levels since 2012. Collectively, Canberra Pollen, Melbourne Pollen, Sydney Pollen, and Perth Pollen, serve over 800,000 users in these major cities.

The University of Tasmania’s AirRater supports about 100,000 users throughout Australia, and provides information about pollens and air pollution, enabling users to identify their personal triggers of symptoms and alerting them when air conditions deteriorate. From next year, AirHealth will bring these services together and begin a program of work to improve and expand the accessibility, quality and timeliness of air quality and pollen information for all Australians.

This includes rolling out Australia’s largest pollen monitoring network, with plans to expand the number of operating sites in 2024. The network will include cutting-edge automated counters that identify pollen grains using advanced machine learning algorithms, technology that has the potential to revolutionise the availability of pollen information.

The merger of the technology into a newly created start-up is being led by Dr Edwin Lampugnani from the University of Melbourne and Professor Fay Johnston from the University of Tasmania.

Hay fever and asthma are common and debilitating conditions that can be triggered by airborne hazards like grass pollen, air pollution and bushfire smoke. But with enough notice, those at risk can take proactive measures to reduce their exposure, manage their symptoms and improve their health.

Dr Lampugnani, said: “We’ve been monitoring pollen in Melbourne for over 30 years and helped millions of Victorians be better prepared for the grass pollen season. As we enter the warmer months, our forecasts can help people make informed choices for their health, improve their use of appropriate medications, and reduce their exposure to allergens.”

“This merger will empower more Australians to make informed decisions for their health. The integrated services will ensure all Australians understand how their symptoms relate to the environmental conditions in ways that helps them better manage their health and get more out of life.”

Professor Johnston leads the environmental health research group at the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research. “The impacts of air pollution from traffic, vehicles, combustion heaters and bushfire smoke cost the Australian economy more than $6 billion each year, by contributing to the community burden of heart disease, strokes, and lung conditions like asthma,” Professor Johnston said.

Professor Moira O’Bryan, Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne said: “With increasingly severe bushfire episodes, the threats to our air are increasing. The new service will provide much more comprehensive air quality information than previously available in Australia and enable those at higher risk to reduce the health impacts from unsafe air.

“This pre-seed funding ensures AirHealth continues to grow into an effective national network with a positive daily impact on the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands of Australians suffering from pollen and related allergies. This is an example of excellent fundamental research leading to benefit for Australians. It is also an example of the value of collaborating with talented partners such as the University of Tasmania.”