Scientists seek to understand impact of pollution on seasonal allergies

A unique collaboration between University of Manchester Scientists is set to advance our understanding of how polluted cities impact on seasonal allergies.

The scarcity of data has prompted the environmental scientists and immunologists to combine cutting edge technology and citizen science to take on issues which affect millions of people across the world.

The data – which for the first time is correlating pollution and health statistics – will help the one in four people in the UK who suffer from seasonal allergies like hay fever and asthma.

The scientists will be speaking about their work at the EuroScience Open Forum on Wednesday morning in a session called ‘Our Air, Our Cities’.

Also at the session will be Alice Sharp, Curator and Director of Invisible Dust, which commissions science based artworks inspired by climate change.

“Seasonal allergies have an enormous impact on peoples’ lives and are increasing in the West: they make children struggle in school, affect our ability to work, but can also lead to more serious health complications,” said immunologist Dr Sheena Cruickshank, a lead coordinator of #BritainBreathing.

The project, working with the Royal Society of Biology, the British Society for Immunology, turns British allergy sufferers into citizen scientists using a free new app.

“We don’t know what is driving this increase in seasonal allergies, but what has been missing to answer this question is wide scale human data” added Dr Cruikshank.

“Because detailed information on pollen and pollution is available, we want to map Britain Breathing data onto that and perhaps come closer to understanding what really drives allergies, on both an individual and a national level.”

Professor Gordon McFiggans, from the University’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences leads a ground breaking project which studies the relationship between pollution and built environment.

His team produce spectacular visual simulations showing where pollution gathers and how it disperses across geographical areas.

He said: “Our work is all about finding the level of data which is needed to make good policy decisions.

“If we are going to tackle the issue of pollution, we need more integration between policy makers and scientists.

“And measurements of atmospheric pollutants on the ground and measurements of their impact on health is a hugely important part of that mix.”

As part of the ESOF wrap-around festival Science in the City, Invisible Dusts’ Kasia Molga is performing across Manchester’s City Centre to reflect how commuters are affected by air quality.

Called Human Sensor, Molga will be showing wearable technology which displays colours that change according to the air pollution levels on the street, based upon readings collected by scientists beforehand.

Alice Sharp said: “When I founded the organisation I named it ‘Invisible Dust’ and our mission is to make the invisible visible. We commission art works in collaboration with scientists and have been raising awareness about dangerously high levels of air pollution for nearly ten years.

“I’m very happy the message is finally hitting home and that the world is beginning to wake up to this environmental challenge.”

EuroScience Open Forum 2016 (ESOF 2016)