The drop in road and air traffic made a significant difference to air quality the world over when Lockdown hit.
Confined to our homes and neighbourhoods, there was a renewed appreciation of our immediate environment and, recent figures suggest, a better understanding of why tackling air pollution is such an important issue – in a survey commissioned by Goji Air, 73 per cent of the population said that they were concerned about air pollution in the UK and 80 per cent claimed they were concerned about air pollution globally.
Sadly, as the world returns to (a new) normal, pollution levels are back to where they were. This isn’t good news for areas like the Horsham District, where analysis in 2018, the latest year for which data is available, suggested that safe air pollution limits were being breached.
The audit identified two places in the district where the average level of nitrogen dioxide exceeded the 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air limit.
The worst offending location – at the area’s A283 Manley’s Hill and School Hill, Storrington site – came in at 50.6.
Across the South East, 194 sites recorded annual averages that failed to meet air quality standards, eight of which registered levels of more than 60 micrograms per cubic metre.
The World Health Organisation and the UK Government acknowledge that air pollution is the largest environmental health risk we face today.
Causing heart and lung disease, and with links to low birth weight and children’s lung development, it is thought that it may also contribute to mental health issues.
Worrying, also, is the suggestion by US researchers that air pollution particles may be acting as vehicles for viral transmission and that air pollution has exacerbated Covid-19.
When it comes to the workplace, Chris Large, co-CEO of Global Action Plan, the charity that coordinates Clean Air Day, suggests two points for employers and employees to take action on this Clean Air Day: “The first is to have a very clear agreement about where they are going to work and how much travel they are going to do in the coming months.
“We would like to minimise non-essential travel into work places, particularly in the car, so there is road capacity available for those who absolutely have to drive.
“Minimising pollution from car travel in local communities is also important because air pollution is a compounding issue for Covid-19; exposure to high levels can make the experience of having Covid-19 much worse.
“I would also encourage both employer and employee to have a good conversation about how they can maintain the best level of indoor air quality in whatever the workplace has now become; the kitchen, garage, bedroom – wherever.
“There will be potentially different sorts or air pollution that they would not be exposed to in their normal work setting and people should be sure to open windows for natural ventilation, use the extractor on the cooker when cooking and, for areas that are highly exposed or that are difficult to ventilate, consider an air purifier.”
Aidan Salter from Billingshurst-based Goji Air UK is also urging Sussex residents to support Clean Air Day, but acknowledges that big changes to lifestyle are not always practical.
He added: “It’s not always as easy as simply not using the car.
“Not everyone works locally and public transport doesn’t always offer a competitively-priced alternative, but I do believe that we can all make small steps in the direction of positive change.
“Making changes where you can is really important. When the Goji Air purifier was developed, for example, it was key to create a system that didn’t host hazardous waste in the filter, which in turn ends up back in the environment via landfill, and so compounds air pollution (happily, scientists successfully created a reactor that actually coverts converts Volatile Organic Compounds, so no nasties are returned into the earth.
“They also engineered a portable version, ensuring clean air on public transport, at your desk – wherever.).
“But whether it is installing an air purifier, walking to school or work even a couple of times a week, opting for a greener car or lobbying your MP or local councillor to be vocal about air pollution in government, we can all do something. If we all do a little, and make it our business to have a greater awareness of the issue, then invariably bigger changes will follow.”
And while some industrial areas are worse hit than others, Chris Large explains that air high levels of pollution are not exclusive to urban areas; any area where there is a high percentage of people who burn waste, or where there is either dense traffic or a particularly congested route, especially where pollution finds it hard to dissipate, are at increased risk.
In West Sussex the controversial Covid-19 pop-up cycle lane in Chichester has attracted considerable criticism for creating an air pollution pocket, with the new lane (between the railway station and the hospital) causing previously free-flowing traffic to ‘jam’.
Ultimately, as Chris points out, to really get on top of air pollution we have a collective responsibility.
He said: “It is impossible to solve the air quality across the country unless we have all parties playing their part; employers, members of the public, local authorities, central government car companies and public transport providers. We all need to collaborate.”