Poor air quality is a national public health crisis.
It is linked to around 40,000 early deaths every year in the UK, including an estimated 360 deaths each year in our areas.
It is caused by many factors but by far the largest contributor is road transport in many towns and cities across the UK.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and tiny invisible particles from exhaust fumes, tyres and brakes are present in the air we breathe.
All vehicles cause some pollution, including those with low emissions, but those that run on diesel fuel and older vehicles are the biggest source of NO2.
It is NO2 emissions that the government has told us we must address.
In terms of health problems however, it is just as important to reduce particle emissions.
It is important to note that many of the measures that might be taken to reduce NO2 will also reduce particle emissions.
The effect of poor air quality on people’s health
Air pollution is linked with cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. New research also suggests that people who live in areas with high levels of pollution may be more at risk of developing dementia.
Evidence from the World Health Organisation shows that poor air quality is particularly dangerous for children, older people and those already living with long-term health conditions like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
There’s no safe level of exposure to air pollution.
The effects on our health build up over time.
Air quality in our area
We regularly monitor air quality across our areas and we know there are some places where we have particularly high pollution levels.
We know where the worst affected areas are and we’re already taking action to address this, including:
creating more efficient bus routes and upgrading vehicles with cleaner engine technology;
improving cycle networks;
improving our own fleet by introducing cleaner vehicles;
upgrading traffic signals to keep traffic flowing and prevent congestion by co-ordinating movements through junctions;
promoting initiatives such as car sharing and car clubs;
providing more charging points for ultra-low emissions vehicles.
There are other things councils can do, such as investing in public transport systems and making further improvements to the roads network, but these are often dependent on government funding being made available.
We can all help
There are lots of things we can all do to help improve our air quality.
One of the biggest ways we can make a difference is to reduce the number of car journeys we make by switching to public transport, walking or cycling. This has the important added benefit of improving your health.
Even if you walk or cycle on a busy road, you are less at risk from health-threatening pollutants than when you’re inside a vehicle – you may not see or smell it inside the car, but you are still breathing pollution.
Car sharing, turning your engine off when you’re not moving anywhere and choosing a low or zero emission vehicle are other things we can also do to help.
If you’re a business or employer, you could set up schemes to support car sharing or incentives for staff to use public transport or cycle to work. Or you could introduce flexible working so that people can choose to travel outside of peak travel times or work from home.