World Environment Day #BeatAirPollution

5th June 2019 – World Environment Day

Last year World Environment Day tackled the topical ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ and this year its theme is ‘Beat Air Pollution’ – another major environmental issue. As with plastic pollution the issue of air pollution is not a new problem, but it is one that has become a part of the daily news agenda.

 

Unlike plastic pollution, air pollution is not always the most visible of environmental issues – particularly in the UK. When you hear the term air pollution you may conjure up images of coal fired power stations and a barely visible capital city during the Great London Smog of 1952. In comparison looking out your window today you are likely to see clear – and hopefully blue – skies.

But does a clear looking sky mean clean air?

With research suggesting that 9 out of 10 people worldwide are exposed to levels of air pollution that exceed World Health Organization safe levels, the answer is clearly no. Around seven million people worldwide die prematurely each year from air pollution, with 64,000 of these deaths occurring in the UK. So, what exactly is causing the dangerous air pollution?

The air that we breath has thousands of microscopic particles (PM10 and PM2.5) as well as gases such as Nitrogen Dioxide (NOx) and Ozone, and it is these that are currently at unsafe levels and causing the air pollution crisis. Particulate matter mostly comes from transport sources and can remain in the atmosphere for long periods of time meaning they can be transported great distances. NOx emissions originate from transport and heating sources, whilst Ozone rises to unsafe levels during warmer weather.

So how can we help Beat Air Pollution? On an individual level, we can make changes to our modes of transportation. In particular short journeys that are currently taken by car could instead by cycled or even walked – helping the environment and our fitness levels! Walking or cycling a long distance however would not be practical, so why not consider using public transport or making your next car an electric car. According to a European Environment Agency (EEA) report Battery electric cars emit less greenhouse gases and air pollutants over their entire life cycle than petrol and diesel cars.

But what about on a larger scale –can we make a great contribution towards beating air pollution? As part of the construction industry and part of the development sector, we do have an ability to influence on local air quality. As designers of new developments, we have a level of control over heating sources specified on schemes, therefore impact levels of NOx emissions that are released. We can also design schemes to have sufficient electric car charging points, thereby reducing some of the current concerns around electric cars and long-distance travel.

As with many environmental issues, it can be easier to feel like the problem is too big for us to make an impact. These issues are significant because they are global but that does not mean we cannot help to do our bit and make a difference. Last years Beat Plastic Pollution had a huge impact on the use of plastic globally and hopefully this year can create a similar movement and help us all to Beat Air Pollution.