Air pollution in London © David Holt via Flickr under a CC0 license
January has seen the issue of air pollution consistently hitting the headlines as the World Health Organisation listed air pollution to be the top threat to global health in 2019. Closer to home, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced the UK government’s Clean Air Strategy 2019 and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan launched Breathe London, a project which will allow Londoner’s to track air pollution levels in the city with real time air pollution maps.
Air pollution a global health threat
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that air pollution is one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019. Microscopic pollutants called particulate matter (PM) are small airborne particles which can penetrate respiratory and circulatory systems, leading to damage to the lungs, heart and brain.
The WHO estimate that air pollution prematurely kills upwards of seven million people each year from diseases such as cancer, stroke and heart and lung disease, and of these, 4.2 million are caused by exposure to ambient air pollution. Approximately 90% of deaths linked to air pollution are in low and middle income countries, which have high volumes of emissions from the industrial, transport and agricultural sectors, but also have higher numbers of dirty cooking stoves and fuels in the home.
The WHO has produced a number of maps which demonstrates mortality from outdoor air pollution and ambient air pollution levels globally. Their Breathe Life campaign also highlights the fact that 91% of the world’s population live in areas which exceeds WHO guidelines on air quality. The campaign website has a tool which allows users to compare the air quality in their city against WHO guidelines. The database upon which this tool is derived now covers more than 4,300 cities across the globe.
UK Clean Air Strategy 2019 launched
The UK government has launched a world leading plan to tackle air pollution across the country. The Clean Air Strategy 2019 aims to cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020 through reducing exposure to PM, which the WHO has identified as the most damaging air pollutant to human health. This saving is estimated to rise to £5.3 billion per annum from 2030 onwards.
The strategy builds upon the UK’s commitment to halve the number of people living in areas which breach WHO PM guidelines by 2025, and will extend far beyond tackling traffic jams and levels of exhaust fumes. The strategy covers all work sectors and areas of society in order to tackle pollutants from a range of sources. The strategy includes ending of the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol vehicles from 2040 and addresses the recent popular trend of domestic wood burning stoves and fires through new legislation targeting polluting fuels and dirty stoves. Legislation to tackle ammonia emissions from agriculture is also included, with regulations requiring farmers to use low emission techniques and minimising pollution from fertiliser use.
With the Clean Air Strategy 2019, the UK government has positioned itself as the first major economy to adopt air quality goals based on WHO guidelines.
Maps helping Londoner’s breathe easier
A new project exploring London’s air pollution solutions has launched the world’s largest air quality monitoring network in the capital. Breathe London combines 100 state of the art sensor pods mounted around the city with two Google Street View cars equipped with mobile sensors, to measure and map the air quality of tens of thousands of locations.
The cost of polluted air on London’s economy is estimated at £3.7 billion every year due to the health impacts of PM and other pollutants causing lost life years, hospital admissions and deaths. The vast amount of data collected by the Breathe London project will not only allow members of the public to be more aware of pollution levels they experience in their day to day lives, but will also improve short term air pollution forecasting so that people can avoid pollution hotspots.
The data generated will be available to view as an interactive map on the Breathe London website.
Collaborating with the Environmental Defence Fund and Google Earth Outreach, Breathe London is a one year project which brings together top health and scientific experts with a range of expertise in air quality measurement, technology design, atmospheric modelling, GIS and civic engagement.