London’s air quality

Air quality is terribly important. There are various ways in which air can be polluted and various ways to test that the air quality is of a sufficiently high standard so as not to present a hazard to human health. One of the most important ways of measuring air quality is to measure pollution particles in the air that have an aerodynamic diameter of less than ten micrometres. If the particulate matter in the air at a given place is less than ten micrometres the measurement of this particulate matter is referred to as PM10.

Most air particles are simply dust, caused by a range of things from human and animal skin to mineral dust that is windblown to particulates from combustion, particularly petrol, diesel and other fossil fuel burning. In cities where in the United Kingdom we no longer burn coal, the majority of the particulates are from traffic, so that if you live or work next to a busy road your longs will act as a filter for these particulates, removing some of them from the atmosphere and hiding them in your lungs, where they are likely to eventually damage your respiratory system.

These very fine and very small particulates, PM10 are particularly hazardous to human health. Larger particulates will usually be filtered through the nostrils and breathed out by the lungs but very small particles such as PM10 will enter the deepest and most infrequently used part of the lungs.

Small particles such as PM10 stay in the atmosphere far longer than larger particles. In the atmosphere they are a cause of global dimming by scattering light and probably affect climate change although the precise effect of particulate pollution on our climate is not fully known.

The European Union has laid down standards for atmosphere pollution in each of its member states and the standards vary from state to state and sometimes within regions of a state. The standards are not terribly high, and I suppose that the EU understands that these standards must be slowly made more rigorous. PM10 has its own standard as do other types of particulate matter. Adhering to the minimum particulate standard will improve human health by lessening asthma, cardio thoracic and cardio vascular disease, and that it as matter that is literally close to the hearts of all of us.

Unfortunately for Londoners, of who I am one, air pollution in London for PM10 exceeds the maximum levels prescribed by European Union law.

The United Kingdom may face court proceedings for failing to meet the required air quality standard, which if instituted, would lead of a heavy fine. The United Kingdom has asked for an extension until June to comply with the standard.

It is not easy for London to comply; there are many people living, driving and burning fossil fuel in London, and although there have been a few measures such as electric cars (which simply create the particulates at the power station) a bicycle hire scheme the benefits of these have probably been offset by the introduction of new biomass boilers in London.

The EU’s air quality directive is not a piece of busybody legislation by an interring power, but a vital requirement which will improve people’s health. So far out of the 27 EU nations only Sweden and Slovenia have been referred to court over air quality. If th majority of the EU can keep their air quality within the legal standards there should be no reason why the United Kingdom cannot also do this.


2 Responses

  1. […] View post: London's air quality « Robert Kyriakides's Weblog […]

  2. PM concentrations have not improved any significant amount in the last decade. I recently completed a dissertation on the contribution that motor vehicle traffic makes in London and despite expected road transport emissions reductions from new regulations, they did not materialise

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