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Cutting-Edge Approaches for Pollution Assessment in Cities

Final Report Summary - CAPACITIE (Cutting-Edge Approaches for Pollution Assessment in Cities)

The CAPACITIE project trained a new generation of researchers with the skills to develop and apply cutting-edge technologies to monitor pollutants in the natural environment. The researchers also have a detailed understanding of the needs of users of monitoring data and of the social and ethical issues around the adoption and use of selected technologies. These researchers will be highly employable in a wide range of sectors including: information technology, environmental protection, water and wastewater companies, chemical producers and analytical instrument manufacturers. CAPACITIE recruited 12 ESRs to the University of York, across the Sociology, Environment, Electronics, Chemistry, Physics and Computer Science departments.

The scientific objectives of CAPACITIE were divided across four academic Work Packages. Work Package 1 aimed to fully understand the needs of end users (expert stakeholders and the public) regarding environmental monitoring data and to understand how best to engage different stakeholders in environmental monitoring activities. Work Package 2 explored how to better prioritise and characterise environmental exposure to contaminants of emerging concern (such as pharmaceuticals, nanomaterials, personal care and cleaning products and paint coatings) that may have detrimental impacts on human and ecological health. Work Package 3 set out to develop new, innovative technologies that may be more easily deployed to monitor pollutants in the natural environment. Finally, Work Package 4 aimed to develop ICT technologies for data collection and analysis to explore how to better use data generated by monitoring and how best to present the information in order to aid decision-making.

Throughout the project the ESRs undertook a training programme, relevant to both their academic and personal development. A series of CAPACITIE training courses were run across the entire project focusing on: Environment pollution and monitoring; New technologies for monitoring pollution; Policy and regulation of pollutants in the environment; and Working in the private sector. ESRs also participated in professional and organisational development courses; attended at relevant MSc modules; and undertook short courses of relevance to their specific projects. In addition to this, a wide range of guest seminars were organised across the lifetime of the project with external speakers relevant to the project aims. Through secondments to organisations from the research, policy and business sectors, ESRs have gained experience of working on real world environmental monitoring problems. Further to this, a supplementary 'Preparing for your Viva' training session was given to the research fellows in order to prepare them for their thesis defense.

Work Package 1, explored the end users’ needs for environmental monitoring, as well as recommendations for how to engage stakeholders in environmental monitoring. The research suggests involving end-users in the setup of air quality sensors and the subsequent data analysis, perhaps fostering awareness and willingness to engage in air quality management. Significant progress has been made towards understanding why citizens get involved in participatory environmental monitoring through a citizen science approach, giving ownership of data collection to the end-users. This research also suggests that the development of new sensor technology could be important in engaging participants in monitoring behaviours.

Work Package 2 has demonstrated how to identify priority pharmaceuticals and characterising their levels, in urban river systems. Research has included both spatial and temporal analyses of pharmaceuticals in freshwater rivers, as well as concentrations of these. An in-depth understanding of the formation of secondary pollutants in indoor air environments has been formed and an analysis of the sources and release pathways for engineered nanoparticles has been carried out.

Work package 3 focused on developing emerging technologies and methodologies for pollution monitoring in cities. Under the technological focus of this work package, the research fellows have developed new sensor technologies for detecting air pollutants and water pollutants. In a deviation from the planned work flow, there have been developments of neural network models for identifying and analysing noise pollution signatures. There have also been developments of a prototype robot monitoring system that can be employed to monitor surface water quality at high spatial resolutions. This Work Package then demonstrates the potential of new monitoring technologies as an effective way to understand pollutants in city environments.

Work package 4 has seen the development of a prototype model for testing sensor performance in urban sensor networks which has been shown to yield significantly better results than existing methods of sensor performance analysis. Furthermore, there has been development of a decision-support system for city planning decisions considering air quality using a novel statistical regression based air pollution model which produces accurate hourly predictions both spatially and temporally. Both of these projects give vital information for how to effectively use data for short- and long- term decision making.

In addition to the four research Work Packages, an additional Work Package (WP5) has delivered training and impact across the project. The CAPACITIE training programme was implemented soon after the ESRs began their tenure at the University of York across a range of scientific, policy and transferrable skills with themes in this reporting Period including; ‘Pollution in a Megacity’, ‘The Smart City Concept’ and ‘Being a research scientist in the business sector’. Additional course have focused on general researcher development elements as well as a viva preparation course. In addition to the training aspects of this Work Package, CAPACITIE has delivered two conferences, giving the research fellows an opportunity to disseminate their work to a wider audience. The first CAPACITIE conference took place in September 2016 around the theme of ‘Innovation in Environmental Monitoring’. The second CAPACITIE conference took place in March 2017 and gave a platform for the research fellows to talk about their research alongside world-leading external speakers.

The main outcome of CAPACITIE is the development of 12 highly qualified researchers who can understand and take account of the policy and regulatory context with which their research outputs sit and also comprehend the societal benefits and innovation opportunities that new monitoring technologies and modelling methodologies may bring. We envisage that a number of new technologies and applications will be brought to market following the completion of CAPACITIE and research from several of the projects is likely to feed into regulatory and policy methodologies for assessing pollution in the urban environment. At the end of this reporting Period, and indeed the project, there have been 8 publications and 32 conference talks by the CAPACITIE fellows, with a further 7 papers submitted or under review and 7 planned conference talks beyond the end of the reporting period. These numbers are expected to rise in the coming months.

For further details on the project, please contact Alistair Boxall (alistair.boxall@york.ac.uk) or go to our website https://www.york.ac.uk/yesi/projects/capacitie/.