Making air pollution meaningful for Meath County Council

As air quality declines, the risk of issues like respiratory disease increases. However, many don’t realise that risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease and stroke also increase. At the same time, while 90% of people agree with the need for climate action¹, local projects often struggle to win sufficient support.

Opposition to environmental measures is increasing, and it can be difficult to bridge the gap between support in theory and support in practice. How can we turn ‘I support net zero’ into ‘I support making this road one way’?

In County Meath, a key area of action is reducing vehicle use to clean the air and meet net zero targets. Trilateral Research partnered with Meath County Council to build a cutting-edge ethical AI solution that provides meaningful information about air quality on individual roads near schools and homes to support climate action.

The STRIAD:AIR AI solution translates air pollution data (measured in inaccessible chemical units, e.g. 15µg/m3) into useful, understandable information for residents. We did this by leveraging cutting-edge scientific evidence and best-in-class public health modelling techniques and hyperlocal population data to create a predictive model of the effects of air pollution on health in the town.

In Trim specifically, it linked real-time air pollution data to the number of cases of disease caused, and cost to the Health Service Executive of treating air pollution-related illness. In Trim alone, we have shown that local air pollution levels are likely responsible for six cases of asthma, four cases of diabetes and three strokes annually. The total cost to the HSE of these effects is more than €150,000 annually .

In Meath, we have integrated STRIAD:AIR with the custom Meath Environmental Platform, a new resource for local people. Trim residents and those from further afield can access hyperlocal air pollution information from sensors in the town along with insights on traffic levels, the best and worst times of day for air quality and health information to motivate change.

To develop and share our messages on air quality and health, we engaged with priority groups, conducting eight workshops in the local community and schools. We used these workshops to garner feedback on the platform and air quality insight system we delivered, with positive reception and useful feedback at each. With students, we adopted an interactive teaching style to engage them in the key elements of the project: what the air is like in your local area and how that affects your health.

Communicating around air pollution effectively means making air pollution relevant. From our workshops and engagement with the public, we have seen that hyperlocal information can empower residents by showing that action makes a difference to you, your neighbours, your friends, and your family.

The STRIAD:AIR AI tool allows councils, governments and public authorities to view the real cost of air pollution in local lives affected and healthcare spending. These models and tools are now available for use across Ireland, allowing councils to show their residents how air pollution affects their health, and that change is possible and necessary.

This information can be leveraged by councils to win public support for various local projects by measuring and publicising lives saved. They can also use the platform to lobby central government for climate action projects by demonstrating likely returns on investment against compounding healthcare costs, justifying the initial outlay for sustainability projects. Using STRIAD:AIR we now know that if every council in Ireland reduced air pollution by 20%, more than 360 lives would be saved per year, reducing costs to the HSE by €18 million annually.

The continuing project means new insights are being developed. Our new short-term health modelling shows the impact of even one day’s air pollution on health (such as stroke, heart attacks, asthma admissions and lost school days). That means effective and impactful messaging can be created to show the impact of wood burning, an increasing risk to health across the UK.

¹ Environmental Protection Agency research – 2023

Dr Ruaraidh Dobson is Programme Manager (Air Quality and Net Zero), Trilateral Research


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