Air Pollution and Air Quality
Reports of 'high' or 'dangerous' pollution levels and publication of the latest scientific research understandably increase public and media interest in air pollution and air quality.
What causes the pollution?
The atmosphere and the air we breathe comprises naturally occurring gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water vapour and particles such as sand and dusts. In addition natural processes such as volcanic activity generate particles (dust/ash) and gases such as sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. Since the industrial revolution atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particles have also increased; primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transport.
At certain levels these natural and man-made emissions become harmful to us and the environment; this is when the emissions are called 'pollution'.
How does the weather effect levels of pollution?
We all know how much the weather can vary day to day, and sometimes it feels that we have had all four seasons in just one day, but the weather also affects where the emissions from our industrial, commercial, domestic activities and transport go (or don't go). Our position off the northwest coast of Europe means we are usually subject to clean moisture-laden air from the Atlantic Ocean coming from the west and south- west making our country 'green and pleasant' due to the mild conditions and rain it generally brings. The rain the 'South-Westerlies' bring wash some of the pollution out of the air and the wind carries our emissions and air pollution away to the east to mainland Europe and Scandinavia.
However, periodically, meteorological conditions occur (mainly during the winter and summer), when the UKs emissions are not carried away and just sit over the UK and build-up, persisting for days and sometimes weeks, resulting in high levels of air pollution.
Occasionally conditions can also occur that carry dust and sand from the Sahara desert, and emissions and pollution generated in the towns, cities and roads of mainland Europe, to the UK, also resulting in higher levels of pollution.
What is being done to reduce and control pollution?
In Nottingham, Community Protection's Pollution Control team works to minimise and control emissions from industrial, commercial and domestic activities. It works with partners and stakeholders to develop and implement air quality action plans to reduce emissions from road traffic, and raise awareness of the effects of air pollution on people and the environment.
What can I do to reduce pollution?
We can all take steps as individuals to reduce emissions; from being more energy efficient e.g. by insulating our homes and switching to low energy devices, to making better choices about how we get about e.g. walking, cycling, using public transport and driving less.
9th May 2014
WHO - Ambient (outdoor) air pollution in cities database 2014
The database contains results of ambient (outdoor) air pollution monitoring from almost 1600 cities around the world. Air quality in the report is represented by annual mean concentration of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5, i.e. particles smaller than 10 or 2.5 microns).
The WHO data covers the period from 2008 to 2013, with the majority of values for the years 2011 and 2012.
Nottingham has hosted a DEFRA funded air quality monitoring station since 1997, this Automatic Urban and Rural Network (AURN) station monitors a variety of pollutants including particulate matter. Originally only PM10 particles were monitored. Equipment to monitor PM2.5 particles was added in 2008.
The WHO report details the 2011 data from the Nottingham AURN. The levels of PM10 and PM2.5 particles measured peaked in 2010 and 2011, coinciding with construction activities for the traffic management scheme on Lower Parliament Street and other construction activity around the Victoria Centre near the AURN.
Monitoring data shows that prior to 2009 particle levels had been falling and that following the peak of 25 ugm-3 for PM10 in 2011 and 16 ugm-3 for PM2.5 in 2010, both PM10 and PM2.5 particle levels are again falling.
Excerpt from the WHO AAP database 2014 for the United Kingdom
AURN monitoring station data - Particles - PM10
AURN monitoring station data - Particles - PM2
28th March 2014
Pollution Episode across the UK
Between the 27th March 2014 and the 4th April 2014 meteorological conditions carried dust and sand from the Sahara desert and the emissions and pollution generated in the towns, cities and roads of mainland Europe resulting in high levels of particle pollution across the UK.
Pollution 'episodes' are not common but weather conditions occur, particularly during the winter and summer, when the UKs emissions are not carried away and just sit over the UK and build-up. Such conditions can persist not only for days but for weeks. This is what happened in the UK during this period. Something similar had happened in France two weeks earlier prompting Paris to introduce a temporary 'car ban'.
On the 4th of April 2014, the wind speed increased and the direction changed to the west and south-west . This clean air, together with rain, reduced pollution to normal 'low' levels.
UK Air data 31/3/2014 - 5/4/2014
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