Air pollution expert gives online talk to 2,000 pupils

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Cars travelling through Glasgow
Cars are a source of air pollution

An expert on environmental pollution from the University of Stirling has given a talk to more than 2,000 school pupils about improving the air they breathe.

Dr Heather Price, a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Geography, delivered the online session ‘What can YOU do about air pollution?’ as part of Glasgow Science Centre’s Curious About Festival.

Air pollution is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical, or biological agent that changes the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.

This contamination by a range of sources - including motor vehicles, industrial facilities, and forest fires - causes potentially fatal diseases and results in millions of premature deaths every year.

Dr Heather Price
Dr Heather Price, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Geography, Faculty of Natural Sciences

Air pollution is a public health emergency that affects us all, yet it can often feel that we are powerless to do something about it. I wanted to show young people that there are small changes they can make to their everyday lives to improve the air they breathe.

WHO data show that 99% of the global population breathe air that exceeds  WHO guideline limits and contains high levels of  pollutants,  with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures.

During her talk to school pupils, Heather offered various suggestions for improving air quality. She said they could walk or cycle instead of travelling by car, use an extractor fan while cooking and encourage their parents not to idle the car.

Heather said: “Air pollution is a public health emergency that affects us all, yet it can often feel that we are powerless to do something about it.

“I wanted to show young people that there are small changes they can make to their everyday lives to improve the air they breathe as well as highlight how, by working together, we can make even bigger changes.

“It was fantastic to have an opportunity to engage so many young people about the topic I’m so passionate about.”

Connecting pupils with experts

Heather’s talk was part of a series of events aimed at encouraging young people to take a closer look at science and technology through interviews and insights, activities and resources, photo galleries and art exhibitions.

Cat Angus, Science Learning Coordinator at Glasgow Science Centre, said: “We are delighted to be working with Dr Heather Price on our Curious About: Live Sessions. These online experiences allow us to connect school pupils, without the barriers of geography, with experts across a range of science topics through live talks and Q&A sessions where they can gain valuable insights, ask questions, and consider careers within the various fields.

“Feedback from teachers tells us that the opportunity to have direct interaction with scientists like Dr Price, is more impactful and engaging for the learner.”

Heather also spoke to Scottish pupils about the work she has done to raise awareness of air pollution among young people in Mukuru, an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, where air pollution is a major problem.

A participatory research project set up by Heather and her partners saw locals create art, stage theatre shows and hold a music festival which led to engagement with policymakers over tackling air pollution sources such as waste burning and poor sanitation.

Heather previously wrote about the success of the scheme in an article for The Conversation titled ‘Using art to tackle air pollution’.

Multi-strategy approach needed

Heather has also been involved in influencing policymakers in Scotland, most recently with a contribution to a report on the Scottish Government’s Air Quality Improvement Plan and wider air quality issues which was published by the Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee in May.

She said: “Scotland’s air pollution comes from a range of sources, creating a cocktail of pollutants, which vary between locations and change over various timescales. This makes tackling air pollution extremely challenging and creates the need for a multiple-strategy approach.”

Heather said the introduction of the four low emission zones (LEZ) in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are a step in the right direction and added that the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Clean Air Programme - a £42.5m investment in air quality research across the UK - will lead to meaningful change in understanding of air pollution and ways of tackling it in Scotland and across the UK when the research is published. 

Heather was named UKRI Regional Clean Air Champion for Scotland in October 2021. She is one of five Regional Champions in the UK tasked with raising awareness of the Clean Air Programme, which aims to develop practical solutions for air quality issues.

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