University of Hong Kong Featured PhD Programmes
University of Leeds Featured PhD Programmes
University of Reading Featured PhD Programmes

QUADRAT DTP: Air Quality and Environmental Impact on Human Health

School of Natural and Built Environment

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
Prof J McKinley No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Recent reviews of the impact of air pollution on human health have shown scientific evidence for the detrimental effects of air pollutants, including environmental toxins which may become blood-borne and translocate to tissues such as the liver, brain and kidney. Atmospheric pollution deposition from traffic and brake wear emissions have been discovered to be important potential sources of toxic metals including arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), lead (Pb), tin (Sn), antimony (Sb), Uranium (U) and Zinc (Zn). Soils can be used as tracers for these environmental toxins through identifying both anthropogenic and geogenic signatures. Chronic kidney disease (CKD), a collective term for many causes of progressive renal failure, is increasing worldwide due to ageing and a general increase in obesity and diabetes. CKD attributed to unknown aetiology (termed CKDu) is an increasing issue globally with the occurrence of geographic clusters appearing to suggest potential underlying environmental causes of CKDu.

This project uses data from the UK Renal Registry including Chronic Kidney Disease of uncertain aetiology (CKDu) to investigate the impact of environmental toxins on human health. Using urban soil geochemistry databases of total element concentrations of potentially toxic elements (PTEs), for two urban centres Belfast and Glasgow, and air quality information, the study will examine the spatial statistical relationship between Standardised Incidence Rates (SIRs) of CKDu with environmental toxins and air pollution data.

Previous research indicates the need for greater understanding of the potential risk of environmental PTEs in urban areas [1, 2] and the link between CKDu and environmental PTEs, including arsenic and molybdenum [3]. Atmospheric pollution deposition, traffic and brake wear emissions have been cited as sources for these PTEs, with a blood-borne pathway of ultrafine particles of these PTEs which may translocate to the kidney. Previous research has also highlighted the potential impact on socio-environmental inequalities [2,3]. This research is important to gain a greater understanding of the link between human health and environmental toxins from anthropogenic sources including air pollution and traffic.

Geochemical data are compositional in nature in that they convey relative information. Compositional data analysis (CoDA) methods are frequently used to extract information from geochemical data by treating log ratio or equivalently transformed data. The proposed work will develop an approach through compositional data analysis approaches (including the use of balances) to find an elemental balance associated with CKDu and pollution data. The project will focus on (1) a statistical approach to explore the relationship between the elemental toxins as proxies for air and traffic pollution; (2) a compositional statistical approach to explore the association of SIRs of CKDu with geochemical proxies of pollution, using urban soil geochemistry databases and the relationship with socio-economic indicators, (2) integration of findings into an overall urban environmental risk assessment, and (3) Stakeholder engagement to translate the findings into evidence-based policy communications. The student will be trained in Geographical Information Science (GIS), compositional data analysis approaches in programming language R and how to communicate a scientific message through stakeholder engagement. More project details are available here:

How to apply:

Please note: applications should be submitted directly to QUADRAT and not to Queen’s University Belfast.

Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and international candidates (EU and non-EU). Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend/research & training support grant only.

Before applying please check full funding and eligibility information:


[1] McIlwaine, R., Doherty, R., Cox S. & Cox, M., 2017. The relationship between historical development and potentially toxic element concentrations in urban soils. Environmental Pollution Vol. 220, Part B, Pages 1036-1049

[2] Morrison, S., Fordyce. F.M., Scott, M., (2014) An initial assessment of spatial relationships between respiratory cases, soil metal content, air quality and deprivation indicators in Glasgow, Scotland, UK: relevance to the environmental justice agenda. Environ Geochem Health. 36:319-332 DOI 10.1007/s10653-013-9565-4

[3]McKinley, J.M, Mueller, U., Atkinson, P.M., Ofterdinger, U., Cox, S F., Doherty, R., Fogarty, D., Egozcue, J.J., Pawlowsky-Glahn, V. (2020) Chronic kidney disease of unknown origin is associated with social deprivation and environmental urbanisation in Belfast, UK., Environ Geochem Health.

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2021
All rights reserved.