DR MICHAEL DICKINSON | Citizen Science Coal Dust Detections

BACKYARD DETECTIVES

Australia mines around 487 million tonnes of coal per year worth over A$22.4 billion of export revenue (2012/13). Newcastle is a major centre for coal transportation. Coal is transported by rail through residential areas using uncovered containers despite the low cost of covering these wagons, coal companies point to a lack of research in this field. Coal dust in homes is common prompting the questions:

a) How much dust are we being exposed to?

b) Which locations are most exposed?

c) What is the effect on people?

d) How can dust be prevented from entering the atmosphere?

Currently air pollution is claiming 1600 Australian lives a year.

However, due to a lack of research funding we have not been measuring exposure to dust, until recently, Lancet:

‘the nature of the urban particulate cloud… ultra-fine particles are able to provoke alveolar inflammation, …causing exacerbations of lung disease and of increasing blood coagulability.

Recent research shows that fine dust has breached the blood tissue barrier in the brain. 

It is particularly concerning as this may damage children’s cognitive and physical development for the rest of their lives. This project aims to test the levels of exposure to particulates to household in Newcastle from uncovered coal wagons.

In this project Children act as citizen scientists as part of Newcastle City Council’s Community Lab program within the Newcastle Smart City Strategy. Building their capacity in understanding, engagement and interaction with emerging technologies.  Empowering communities to meaningfully participate in data, scientific research and democratic policy changes.

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