Douglas Booker

PhD student

Research Overview

Environmental Justice research on air pollution has traditionally focused on demonstrating the extent to which air pollution is equally—or unequally—distributed across particular defined social groups. A socioeconomic group of particular importance are children, as they are especially susceptible to air pollution. More than just exhibiting negative health consequences, exposure to air pollution has also been associated with poor academic performance.

Research has largely focused on outdoor air pollution, however, the conclusions drawn have a methodological myopia: the research assumes that outdoor air pollution is an accurate indicator of personal exposure. Yet, on average, people spend more than 90% of their time indoors, where levels can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoors. The combination of both the length of time spent inside, and the potential for higher concentrations means that personal exposure is greater indoors rather than outdoors. Therefore, the current exposure-based assessments are not reflecting “real-world” patterns of exposure.

Schools are perhaps the most investigated indoor environment, however, this does not take into account all of the relevant indoor environments. An indoor environment of particular concern is school buses, where around one hour of this indoor exposure is spent per day. This is referred to as Vehicle Interior Air Quality (VIAQ). This exposure is important to understand given the immediate proximity to significant pollutant sources (other vehicles), plus, in urban areas, high outdoor concentrations compared to other micro-environments. This combination of vulnerable population (children), plus environments of high exposure (at school and in-vehicle) represents a double jeopardy that requires more investigation. However, to understand indoor air quality one must rely on the principle that the indoor atmosphere is an extension of the outdoor atmosphere: to understand environmental justice, one must have a holistic understanding of air pollution, indoors and outdoors.

The aim of the research is to develop new understandings of patterns of exposure to poor air quality for school children. This will involve simultaneously monitoring multiple pollutants inside and outside a range of different places and indoor environments (schools and school buses) and with a fine temporal resolution. This will permit a holistic and more complex understanding of patterns of exposure for school children to be developed, including in terms of its implications for vulnerability and distributive justice.