In this article, Benjamin Sharp and Joshua Murphy from NSW Public Works Advisory explain how improved air quality monitoring and strengthened air quality management are helping people suffering from respiratory conditions better manage their health.

High concentrations of the major air pollutants are associated with respiratory problems such as coughs, bronchitis, asthma and, in severe cases, developmental problems in children, and even death.

A project being delivered by Public Works Advisory in partnership with DPIE’s – Science, Economics & Insights Division, has delivered a network of 39 new or upgraded stations across the state since 2010, with more currently in the planning phase. The large/fixed station network stretches from Albury in the south, Narrabri in the west, Armidale in the north west and everywhere in between.

The project has involved design, building or upgrading existing air monitoring stations to provide a secure compound and infrastructure that enables the provision of reliable data collection. The outcome is a network of stations that are well protected from the elements and provide a safe work environment for the staff who work on the air monitoring network.

Why was this project necessary?

Existing infrastructure required upgrading and renewing to allow for the collection of high-quality and fit-for-purpose data on air quality. Expansion of the network was necessary to deliver higher resolution of data throughout the state not just in the cites but also in the rural towns, and a technology upgrade was required to enhance the accessibility of data. Enhancements were also required to improve the safety of sites for people working at the stations.

The program delivers three key strategic benefits:

  1. Leading to improved air quality across New South Wales (this is drawn from the Clean Air for NSW Consultation Paper).
  2. Strengthened air quality management to reduce air pollution and exposure in New South Wales (National Clean Air Agreement).
  3. Improved resilience of community and business to climate change, environmental hazards and risks (The Department Corporate Plan and the NSW Climate Change Policy Framework).


Air Monitoring Data Results (Source: NSW Public Works Advisory).

Purpose of the project:

The project aims to implement a system for air quality data management, data reporting and data delivery that is fit-for-purpose, modular and adaptable to changing business needs and customer expectations.

The project delivers the following:

  • reproduces and enhances the current system’s functionalities to be more robust, stable and flexible, including additional internal data management and stewardship capabilities.
  • ​makes available simple and intuitive means of providing wider and more flexible access to data, to both internal and external users, and the general community.
  • incorporates disparate streams of input data other than those currently sourced from traditional air quality monitoring monitors.

Benefits of the project:

The project is delivering a range of benefits for the community, Government and decision-makers. The technology upgrade that has accompanied the program has enabled the data collected to be more accessible and better utilised. It is now live streamed to websites and people can subscribe to an SMS service.

While this has a range of advantages within Government and Industry, its greatest advantage is to people suffering from respiratory conditions who can now manage their own health and wellbeing based on accurate near real-time air quality data. This can reduce the number of people seeking medical treatment for respiratory conditions on days when air quality is poor.

Other benefits include:

  • People having access to the right information at the right time and at the right scale.
  • ​Live air quality data available to the public for air quality rating and forecasts.
  • Enhanced engagement and collaboration on air quality science and management across agencies.
  • Provision of quality information for risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses.
  • The use of air quality science information in decision and policy making across all levels of government.
  • Greater protection from air pollution, and enhanced amenity and livability outcomes for NSW people.
  • Improved decisions on environmental and public health due to evidence of air quality impacts.
Air Monitoring Data Collection Equipment (Source: NSW Public Works Advisory).

How is the program being executed?

Extensive planning in the design phase delivered a blueprint that could be used across all sites to ensure consistency of delivery across the entire network. A standard design of the structural elements across the program eliminated the need for ongoing geotechnical advice, which has realised a significant saving across the program. Continuous improvement is being achieved through a biannual review of the program and its design and functionality components.


As with any project there have been challenges along the way. Sites had to meet strict air collection requirements and needed Council and community approval. The main challenge is connecting sites to the supply authority network.

Key challenges are detailed below:

  • Extensive supply runs of power to the site.
  • ​Availability of power within the supply authority network.
  • Ability to access the network in remote locations.
  • Negotiations with the supply authority to complete works in locations in tight timeframes.
  • Availability of Lv1 qualified contractors in regional and or remote locations.
  • Arranging access and permission to connect to existing electrical infrastructure of landowner.

​These challenges have all been overcome through building strong relationships with the community and Government agencies at time of design, and review the project components to achieve continual improvement.

Measuring success

Extensive planning through end-user involvement has resulted in delivery of infrastructure that has been fit-for-purpose during the length of the program. The data collection from all air monitoring stations has been continuous and reliable.

Subscribers to the live air quality alerts have increased throughout the program. For example, the unprecedented bushfires of 2019/20 saw over 12,000 subscribers to the air quality alert system and half a million website hits in one week. Feedback from community surveys and local media has been positive.

The program continues to roll out more new stations and improvements with sites currently in the planning phase at Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, South Sydney, North Sydney and the redevelopment of an existing site at Bringelly.

The measures of success demonstrate that the project is providing reliable data to enhance the knowledge and understanding of the impacts of air quality, and importantly, it is helping people to live better lives.