First ‘High’ 8 for London’s Air Quality

Flickr: KevinLallier

London has seen its first ‘high’ 8 air quality score after the Daily Air Quality Index system changed at the beginning of the new year.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was recorded in Putney High Street at 468 micrograms per cubic metre above the 400 ugm-3 level.  Previous air quality levels would have recorded this as a ‘moderate’ 6, when the banding threshold for NO2 as an hourly mean was 573 ugm-3.

The introduction of the new index system is aimed at answering the concerns reflected by health experts as to the adverse effects of exposure to air pollution. Similar to the index used for sun and pollen exposure, the air quality index is divided into four bands – low, moderate, high and very high – ranging from 1-10.

Changes to the index bands for particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ozone (O3) will be more tighter and for the first time will include an index for PM2.5 to fall into line with the World Health Organisation legal limits and recommendations. Such a move that is also being implemented in China to tackle its deadly air pollution.

However, while London is considered to have the worst air pollution within EU cities, levels on the London Air website show that the index rarely goes above a ‘moderate’ level 5. I can, though, understand why Putney High Street received an unimpressive 8 on its report card with the new index system.

I cycle through Putney into and out of London and there hasn’t been a time when I’ve gone through that the roads are blocked with traffic going up and down the bridge. Bus stops placed within yards of each other create congestion in the bus lane, cars eager to move ahead quickly press on the brake as the traffic stops emitting more emissions into the atmosphere, while road works close off lanes as they continually try to fix the potholes on the bridge. It’s madness, but extremely satisfying when I weave my way through leaving the queues behind.

Of course, while London may have experienced its first high 8 that doesn’t mean everywhere will. I prefer to stay optimistic. Even though a loophole in the EU rules allows the UK Government to apply for a time extension that would see them failing to meet NO2 reduction levels by at least 2015, possibly 2025, I hope they won’t and do what they’re supposed to do and answer the needs of the public.

That is, after all, why we put them in power.

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