Over a week ago, the Guardian published a story about the estimation that dirty air affects 97 percent of UK homes using the online monitoring tool https://addresspollution.org/ that allows users to check the data on the quality of the air wherever they live in the UK.
Since then, the local elections, the latest information on ‘beergate’ and the revelation of the latest Dr Who, has pushed this vital public health awareness to one side.
Check where you are
Simply by inputting your postcode into the online tool, you can see whether the local air quality exceeds the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Although the data comes from 2019 – the last ‘normal’ year uninterrupted by travel restrictions or national lockdowns – it is still incredibly useful as it offers an annual average of air quality down to a local level.
According to their website, “addresspollution.org is a free public service from Central Office of Public Interest (COPI). The website provides every UK address with the most accurate air pollution data available, pulled from a national 20m/sq resolution model created by Imperial College London (ICL). To ensure accuracy, COPI sourced and mapped real world pollution levels recorded at more than 19,500 council monitors in every major town and city across the UK”.
Humphrey Milles, founder of COPI and creator of the addresspollution.org website, said:
“Air pollution affects all of us. It’s a group one cause of cancer, just like asbestos. With this new accurate data now publicly available, it would be shameful for the property industry to not start acting transparently. Lives depend on it. Everyone has a right to know what they’re breathing before they buy or rent. And of course, we have our own part to play in this too. Air pollution isn’t insurmountable and we can all do something about it.”
Unfortunately, Leeds did not fare well in this study, with approximately 30 percent of homes being in the top 10 percent most polluted nationally.
One postcode reading in Leeds reached the 97th national percentile and exceeded three WHO limits. A reading in Huddersfield reached the 81st national percentile and exceeded three WHO limits. Likewise, a reading in Bradford reached the 80th national percentile and exceeded three WHO limits. On the other hand, Ilkley, recently named the Sunday Times best place to live, reached the 15th national percentile, while Richmond reached the sixth national percentile and exceeded just one WHO limit.
The quality of the air varies from town to town across our region and from street to street, meaning that the impact on your health from air pollution can be down to luck, rather than serious government intervention and protection.
Government plans to reduce air pollution
The UK government makes the pledge that the Environment Act 2021 “will deliver cleaner air for all by requiring the government to set targets on air quality, including for fine particulate matter, the most damaging pollutant to human health”. Most crucially, the government acknowledges that “there is no safe level or standard of PM2.5”.
At present, the UK’s legal limit for PM2.5 particles of 25µg/m³ is five times higher than the WHO’s ‘limit’ of 5µg/m³.
In March 2022, the government released long-term targets to reduce the ‘limit’ of PM2.5 to 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2040. Targets that were roundly criticised and challenged by campaigners for being a ‘weak response’, which would mean that the UK limit for polluting particles would still be twice that of WHO guidelines in roughly 20 years’ time.
Jane Burston, founder of Clean Air Fund, commented on Twitter that, “It’s astonishing @DefraGovUK will make us wait to 2040 for better #Air Quality. It means thousands of unnecessary deaths and illness from air pollution”.
Mums for Lungs campaign
A spokesperson from the London campaigning group Mums For Lungs told me:
“The biggest opportunity to improve air pollution in England over the next decade is happening right now, in the form of a government consultation on clean air targets. The government has proposed targets that are too little too late, that will condemn another generation of children to breathing dirty air.”
Jemima Hartshorn founder of the group said, “We are so disappointed that our government is failing to protect the health of the most vulnerable in our society. Children, those with underlying health problems and the elderly need are sick, unwell and dying prematurely of avoidable diseases because government is not giving us the most important basic need: clean air. Right now, across the country, most people are breathing harmfully polluted air in every breath”.
The hope for their campaign on Monday 9 May is that public awareness and engagement will be improved by their social media call for clean air now. This is to highlight that there is a current consultation process ongoing that requires public engagement and completion in the next few days.
Government clean air consultation coming to a close
Now that the local elections have ended, there is a wonderful opportunity for newly elected councillors to support action on air pollution to demonstrate the priorities of their councils. The air is something that we all share, regardless of our political affiliation.
With the consultation window for the public to comment on the government’s targets closing on 11 May, the next few days will be critical for individuals and campaign groups to persuade as many people as possible to complete the consultation and push for cleaner air. It shouldn’t be up to individuals to press their government to ensure the quality of the air. The government owes a duty to its citizens to protect them from poisonous pollution. Whether this