Examples from the world of air quality monitoring and food safety of the power of information – and the challenges still to overcome.
Thursday, 8 August 2019, EHN magazine
In the July/August issue of EHN, we explored how the use of data is changing the way we see the world around us.
Here are a couple of examples from that article of how EHPs are looking for ways to harness the power of information to improve the way they work – and the challenges still to overcome.
Air quality data modelling
Concerns about poor air quality, particularly resulting from diesel engine emissions, have ramped up over the last five years. However, councils have struggled to collect the data necessary to understand the problem and engage the public in changing behaviour and avoiding the most polluted areas.
In London, a group of councils have teamed up with King’s College London to improve the way they inform the public about incidents of poor air quality in the capital.
Using a text-messaging service, King’s will directly notify schools, and potentially care homes and GPs’ surgeries soon, of moderate, high and very high pollution episodes.
The system predicts London’s air pollution levels using a model that estimates how pollution will spread over time and distance. The pollutants modelled for the London Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5).
Sensors measure air quality in tens of thousands of locations around the capital to create one of the world’s most advanced air quality monitoring networks, the Greater London Authority says.
Wakefield Council pathfinder project: challenges remain in a data-led approach
Research shows that in eight out of 10 of cases, business data can match Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) ratings from a local authority inspection. But achieving that result was not without its challenges, says Wakefield Council senior EH officer Helen Atkinson.
The council worked as a primary authority with Morrisons supermarket for food hygiene, as part of a pathfinder project with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to work out whether business data can accurately predict FHRS ratings.
Because the council can be subject to freedom of information requests, the supermarket needed assurance that the media or individuals could not access its confidential data, while the local authority required legal assurance on deleting data once it has been used.
Once the partnership overcame that, the problem of data volume reared its head, Atkinson says. “Morrisons holds too much data about themselves for our purpose. You’ve got to look at the value in the data you collect.”
Another problem is that data may not be collected in the format required. “If we are looking for microbe sampling from a particular outlet, that data has been collected but it is stored on a product-by-product basis and that does not hold value for us,” Atkinson explains.
The authority is now looking to develop software that can help sift out relevant data and make it usable for EH professionals, should the FSA introduce the risk-based approach to inspection imagined in its Regulating the Future policy document.