Project highlights

  • Urgent environmental health issue
  • Flexible, mobile monitoring approach
  • Community engagement


Ambient air pollution accounts for an estimated 4.2 million deaths per year due to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases (WHO, 2016). Around 91% of the world’s population, in both developed and developing countries, lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits (WHO, 2016). The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted specific, compound air-quality-health impacts, with analysis already demonstrating a strong correlation between pollution levels and COVID-19 transmission within London boroughs, and a strong association of the risk of COVID-19 fatality with NO2 and PM2.5 concentrations (Sasidharan et al., 2020).

Against this general background, the town and university of Loughborough are poised for a potentially significant, near-future, step-change in air-quality drivers. Waste management companies Covanta and Biffa, together with Macquarie’s Green Investment Group, have agreed a contract to build an “Energy from Waste Facility” (incinerator) between Shepshed and Loughborough, at the Newhurst Quarry site adjacent to Junction 23 of the M1. Objections to the development from Leicestershire County Council were overruled by the Secretary of State for Local Government and current projections indicate construction will commence in 2023. The aim of this studentship project is to evaluate the pre-incinerator urban health status of Loughborough as a control, against which the impact of incinerator emissions may be assessed through atmospheric dispersion modelling, thus generating a holistic assessment of any significant changes in the air quality and environmental health profile of this town. Community engagement will be achieved through dialogue with the Nanpantan Ward Residents’ and Loughborough Air Quality Protection Groups, who in turn are in dialogue with borough and county councillors. We stress that the studentship project has no agenda for or against the Newhurst incinerator, but aims simply to evaluate the nature of its impact on the wider urban health of this location.


Loughborough University


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability


Project investigator

  •  Richard Hodgkins (Loughborough University)



  • Matthew Baddock (Loughborough University)

How to apply


The control urban health status of the town, including its spatial and seasonal variability, is to be established by utilising the WHO Urban Health Index (UHI) Calculation Tool (WHO, 2014). This is an established, standardised method, based on the selection, standardisation and ArcGIS mapping of key indicators (e.g. environmental, economic, sociodemographic), which has been demonstrated to capture small-area disparities in living conditions related to health (Rothenberg et al., 2014). Original data collection to provide air quality key indicators is to be conducted using a Plume Labs Flow 2 personal air quality sensor to generate repeat, high-resolution air quality maps of the town and university. Modelling of Newhurst incinerator emissions is to be achieved using the Plume Plotter implementation of the AERMOD (EPA, 2004) and READY implementation of the HYSPLIT (Rolph et al., 2017) atmospheric transport and dispersion modelling systems, but with Loughborough University campus weather data, rather than the East Midlands Airport data of the Environmental Permit application. Plume Plotter site for Newhurst incinerator:


Training and skills

  • Meteorological data collection, processing and analysis, including datalogger programming experience relevant to a wide range of environmental monitoring
  • Air quality data collection, processing and analysis
  • GIS analysis and visualisation
  • Air quality plume modelling and visualisation
  • Standardised report-writing to inform planning (an integral step of the UHI)

Partners and collaboration

Professor Qinggang Meng
Professor of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence in the Department of Computer Science, Loughborough University.

Dr Baihua Li
Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, Loughborough University.

  • Professor Meng and Dr Li have been researching machine-learning-based approaches to air-quality prediction.

Mr Steve Cuff
Chairman, Nanpantan Ward Residents’ Group, Loughborough.

  • Mr Cuff has undertaken proof-of-concept air quality surveys using a Plume Labs Flow 2

Further details

For further information about this project, please contact Dr Richard Hodgkins ( or Dr Matthew Baddock ( For enquiries about the application process, please contact the School of Social Sciences & Humanities ( Please quote CENTA when completing the application form:

Possible timeline

Year 1

CENTA training. UHI Key Indicators selection. Air quality monitoring and mapping: a mostly daily undertaking through the duration of the studentship.

Year 2

CENTA training. UHI Key Indicators analysis and mapping. Continued air quality monitoring and mapping. Incinerator plume modelling.

Year 3

Continued air quality monitoring and mapping. Report-writing for community and university parties, thesis writing.

Further reading

EPA (2004) AERMOD: Description of model formulation. Washington DC, USA: US Environmental Protection Agency, 454/R-03-004.

Rolph, G., et al. (2017) Real-time Environmental Applications and Display sYstem: READY. Environmental Modelling and Software 95, doi: 10.1016/j.envsoft.2017.06.025.

Rothenberg, R., et al. (2014) A Flexible Urban Health Index for Small Area Disparities. Journal of Urban Health 91, doi:10.1007/s11524-014-9867-6.

Sasidharan, M., et al. (2020) A vulnerability-based approach to human-mobility reduction for countering COVID-19 transmission in London while considering local air quality. Science of the Total Environment 741, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140515.

WHO (2014) The Urban Health Index: A handbook for its calculation and use. Kobe, Japan: World Health Organization.

WHO (2016) Ambient air pollution: A global assessment of exposure and burden of disease. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organisation.


This studentship project is minimally vulnerable to coronavirus-related disruption as it relies partly upon the synthesis and modelling of existing datasets and partly upon the collection of primary data in the Loughborough area itself: the Plume Labs Flow 2 sensor is key-fob-sized and designed to be carried unobtrusively by a pedestrian or cyclist, therefore any restrictions on group sizes or social distancing will not impede data collection. Further, given that ArcGIS, Plume Plotter and READY/ HYSPLIT run on standard PCs – the former can be accessed through Loughborough University’s keyserver and the latter two are web-based – closure of facilities should not be prohibitive.