Smoke, Air Quality and Pregnancy

Project Summary

During the summer of 2019-2020 the Canberra region, the NSW South Coast, and Southeast NSW experienced consistently poor air quality over several months due to bushfires. This posed risks to adults and children which were difficult to quantify. Some groups such as older people, pregnant women and people with respiratory conditions were thought to be at particular risk. This project seeks to understand how women who were pregnant and parenting during this period found out about, interpreted and acted upon these risks.

This research is a sub-project within the larger Mother and Child 2020 study, a longitudinal study which will use questionnaires and health information to assess the impacts of the 2019/20 bushfires and more recently the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic on the health and well-being of pregnant women, new mothers and their babies. The study is a collaborative project led by the ANU Medical School and involving multiple Universities, Local Health Districts and Aboriginal Health Services in the ACT/Southeast NSW region. More information about this study can be found here.

This project is a collaboration between sociologists and medical researchers at the ANU. We are all interested in women’s and babies’ health and how people manage in times of environmental crisis, such as bushfires. The sociologists are Professor Celia Roberts, Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen and Dr Rebecca Williamson. We all work on issues around health, sexuality and reproduction. The medical researchers are Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis, an expert in air quality and public health, and Associate Professor Paul Dugdale, a public health researcher and senior clinician at Canberra Hospital.


Research Team

Professor Celia Roberts

Professor Roberts works in the area of Feminist Technoscience Studies and social studies of health and biomedicine, with particular focus on reproduction, sexuality, sex/ gender, embodiment and health. She is the author or editor of five books: on sex hormones and embodiment, genetic testing and reproductive technologies, early onset puberty, health biosensing, and Actor-Network Theory. Professor Roberts also has a long track-record in interdisciplinary work on ageing and new technologies of care. She is currently working on reproductive biosensing and self-tracking. She has a strong interest in feminist and queer theory and how they can help us understand how human and non-human bodies are changing in the current era of environmental disaster. Another line of research concerns the rise of neuroscientifically-informed parenting practices and popular, therapeutic and biomedical accounts of the effects of early-life trauma throughout childhood and adult life. Roberts is a long-standing editor of the journal Feminist Theory (Sage).

Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen

Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen is the Head of the School of Sociology at The Australian National University. She has undertaken research in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Her research focuses on building transdisciplinary understanding of sexuality and gender across diverse lifeworlds, taking account of issues related to sexual citizenship, cultural and religious difference and technologies of sexuality, education and health. She is associate-editor of Sex Education, and co-editor with Louisa Allen, of the Handbook of Sexuality Education (Palgrave). She has recently collaborated with colleagues in Health, Media and Communication and Cultural Studies on an ARC Discovery project entitled Belonging and sexual citizenship among gender and sexual minority youth - Queer Generations. This project studied the experiences of two different generations of gender and sexual minority youth growing up in urban and rural Australia, and the sources of support they found most useful. She was co-editor of the Palgrave Handbook of Sexuality Education, (2016). She is currently lead investigator on another ARC Discovery, Young Australians perspectives on religions and non-religious worldviews (Worldviews of Australian Millennials  WAM), which draws together an international team of 7 CIs and PIs with expertise in sociology of religion, empirical theology, and education about religion and diversity, a monograph based on this grant is forthcoming.

Associate Professor Paul Dugdale

Paul Dugdale is Associate Professor of Public Health in the ANU School of Medicine. He has an MA in Sociology from ANU and PhD awarded by University of Sydney and largely written whilst a visiting fellow at RSSS. His academic interests lie in the application of social and political theory to health systems and health services development. His books 'Doing Health Policy In Australia' and the edited collection (with Judith Healy) 'Patient Safety First' have become standard references in their fields. He is currently editing a book collection 'Toward an integrated science of wellbeing' with coauthors from CHM and the Crawford School, researching incivility as experienced by junior medical officers with the Psychology Department at Macquarie University, and supervising two doctoral students looking at the digital health transformation. His day job is Executive Director of Medical Services at Canberra Health Services.

Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis

Sotiris Vardoulakis is Professor of Global Environmental Health at the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, which he joined in September 2019 from the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh where he was Director of Research and Head of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Occupational Health. Sotiris is founding co-chair of the International Consortium for Urban Environmental Health and Sustainability (Healthy-Polis) and Honorary Professor at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at University of Exeter Medical School. Previously he was Head of the Environmental Change Department at Public Health England and held academic positions at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Birmingham. He was one of the lead authors of the first UK Climate Change Risk Assessment and contributor to the National Adaptation Programme. He served as a member of the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, UK) Public Health Advisory Committee on Air Pollution. Over the last 20 years, he has advised national and local governments and international organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the European Parliament, on the health effects of climate change and air pollution, and on environmental sustainability and urban health. Sotiris has been involved in numerous research projects, including field studies, environmental modelling, risk assessment and policy analysis in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Pacific. His main research interests include climate change and health, air pollution and health, sustainable cities, sustainable transport, exposure assessment, epidemiology, health impact assessment, and environmental public health communication and policy. He is specialty chief editor (Health and Cities) for Frontiers in Sustainable Cities.

Dr Rebecca Williamson

Rebecca is a research associate, sessional lecturer and tutor in the School of Sociology. She is also part of a team researching the community impacts of bushfire smoke and COVID-19 at the ANU Research School of Population Health. From 2017 to 2020, she was involved in applied research work contributing to the university’s gender equity priorities, focusing on support for breastfeeding mothers and family friendly initiatives. Rebecca has extensive experience in research and administrative support. She has an MA in social anthropology (Victoria University, Wellington) and a PhD in sociology from the University of Sydney (2016), where her research focused on migration, urban diversity and multicultural belonging. Her published work has focused on migration and social transformation, the governance of public spaces and the lived experience of urban diversity, and geographies of care, including the institutional and spatial accommodation of breastfeeding.

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