RESEARCH IMPACT

Traffic Related Air Pollution and Child Care Centre Locations

Outline of the research

Asthma and allergies are the most common presentation to GPs for children under 5 in Australia. Internationally and at home, there is a growing body of research illustrating the negative impacts of air pollution, and in particular, transport-related air pollution (TRAP) on health outcomes for children during crucial periods of their lung development. These problems are compounded by children spending more time outside in urban centres, leading to longer exposure times to potentially harmful pollutants and particulates. Children living or attending educational facilities near high traffic volume roads are exposed to higher levels of pollutants and particulates, had higher rates of negative health outcomes.

In 2017, Almost 41% of Children under 5 attended a formal care facility in Australia in 2017, with 31% – or almost 610,000 children – attending a long day care program. Consequently, the locations of these childcare centres is of crucial importance to the health outcomes of substantial cohort of the Australian population. International best practice guidelines from California recommend a 150m buffer between schools and major roads in order to mitigate the negative effects of TRAP on childrens’ lung development.

To investigate Melbourne’s performance with respect to these international best practice guidelines, Clare Walter, Dr Elena Schneider-Futschik, and Associate Professor Louis Irving from the University of Melbourne, The University of Queensland and the Royal Melbourne Hospital investigated the spatial distribution of child care centres in relation to traffic volumes across Melbourne[1]

How AURIN was used

Ms Walter and her colleagues sourced child care centre location data provided by the Australian Child Education and Care Qualification Authority (ACECQA), provided through the AURIN Portal to academic and government researchers. In addition, the authors also obtained traffic volume data for major roads, provided through the AURIN Portal and AURIN API under a creative commons license data by VicRoads. The latter dataset has substantial value for this type of research, because in addition to the indicating the average daily number of vehicles using the VicRoads network, there are variables indicating the peak use of the road segments (when many children are being dropped off or picked up from child care centres), and the percentage of trucks in the traffic volume. This is particularly important, because trucks produce considerably higher volumes of TRAPs than cars. These datasets are illustrated in the figure below.

Ms Walter and her colleagues also used the visualisation capabilities within the AURIN Portal to map the buffer zones of the major roads in relation to child care centre locations in their case study area of Yarraville.

AURIN Portal Map showing the disribution of child care centres (blue circles, scaled to the number of approved places; data source: https://data.aurin.org.au/dataset/acecqa-acecqa-education-services-2017-na). Yellow to red coloured lines indicate average daily traffic volumes along the road network, pink to purple circles indicate the percentage of trucks along each road segment (data source: https://data.aurin.org.au/dataset/vic-govt-vicroads-vicroads-traffic-volume-2017-na)

Findings and Impacts of the Research

Ms Walter and her colleagues found that 14% of child care centres within their study area were within 60 metres of a major road, with one situated within 15m of an 8 lane road carrying a high volume of trucks. Nearly one quarter of of child care centres in Melbourne were found to be located within 150 meters of major road, exposing a large number of young Australians to harmful TRAP during crucial periods of their lung development.

In one instance, the researchers showed that a child care centre proposed for the inner-west suburb of Yarraville. Situated near the main freight port for Melbourne, Yarraville has almost 20,000 trucks and cars pass through it daily, and has at time exceeded the WHO air quality thresholds. A childcare centre is proposed for this suburb 4 metres from an intersection used by approximately 4,650 trucks daily. This has the potential to lead to substantial negative health impacts for the children attending the centre.

As a result of this study, the authors recommend policy makers in Australia adopt international best practice guidelines on the location of new child care centres where possible. Where they prove impractical, the authors recommend steps such as indoor ventilation and filtration upgrades, outdoor play areas away from TRAP flow movements, the structuring of play to avoid peak traffic times, and roadside barriers. Additionally, Ms Walter and her colleagues highlight a need for substantial improvement in air quality monitoring away from a sparse network of static monitors currently deployed by the Victorian Environmental Protection Agency, to using low cost, real time monitoring systems now readily available.

[1] Walter, C., Schneider-Futschik, E., & Irving, L. (2019). Traffic pollution near childcare centres in Melbourne. Australian and New Zealand journal of public health