What is air quality and why do we need to improve it?

You might have heard a lot about air quality in the news recently and although most people recognise this as an on-going problem, many are unaware of exactly why tackling it as soon as possible is so important and are unaware of the causes of poor air quality and its effects on the people of Nottingham.

The air quality in many British cities, including Nottingham, fails to meet a number of worldwide standards and targets including the World Health Organization’s air quality guideline values, as well as the UK’s air quality standards and objectives to protect health.

Long term exposure to air pollution is now known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. Short term exposure to episodes of elevated air pollution also leads to a worsening of symptoms for those with existing asthma, respiratory or cardiovascular disease, and can trigger acute events such as heart attacks in vulnerable individuals.

It is estimated that 5.6% of all adult mortality (equivalent to 410 deaths) in Nottinghamshire County, and 5.9% of all adult mortality (equivalent to 127 deaths) in Nottingham City, was attributable to long term exposure to human-made particulate air pollution in 2014. Nationally 40,000 people die per year due to poor air quality – this costs £10-20bn per year.

The Pollutants of concern

The pollutants we are most concerned about are:

  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • Fine particulate matter (particles – PM10, PM2.5 and smaller)

Petrol and in particular diesel engine vehicles emit large quantities of these pollutants into the atmosphere as they drive about the city and are responsible for a large proportion of the harmful emissions near busy roads in Nottingham City, as shown by this chart of Nitrogen Dioxide sources:

DEFRA’s Air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide in UK – 2015

Go Ultra Low Nottingham is part of a range of initiatives taking place in Nottingham to help to improve the air quality, and therefore the health and quality of life for people living and working in the city. Switching to an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle, such as an electric or plug-in hybrid car can make a real difference towards improving the air we breathe for ourselves, as well as for future generations. To learn more about the range of options available click here.

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