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More than 1,300 English sites exceed annual pollution limits, analysis suggests

In some spots, average is more than double what it should be to protect health

Emily Beament
Wednesday 29 July 2020 12:11 BST
Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant linked to health issues such as lung and respiratory diseases and early deaths
Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant linked to health issues such as lung and respiratory diseases and early deaths (AFP via Getty)

More than 1,300 sites across England are breaching annual limits for harmful pollutant nitrogen dioxide, analysis by Friends of the Earth suggests.

The environmental group has analysed the latest data on air pollution from English local authorities’ air quality annual status reports submitted to the government.

Friends of the Earth said 1,360 monitoring sites across the country exceeded the annual average air quality target of 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air for nitrogen dioxide in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available.

In some spots, the annual average was more than double the level set to protect health from long-term exposure to pollution, the analysis shows.

Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant which mostly comes from traffic fumes and, along with other pollution such as particulate matter, is linked to health issues such as lung and respiratory diseases and early deaths.

Friends of the Earth wants to see polluting vehicles – which also contribute carbon emissions that are warming the planet – removed from the roads and transport cleaned up.

Simon Bowens, clean air campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said failing to fix air pollution costs lives and showed a failure to address the climate crisis.

“If ministers want to avoid a return to the health-damaging and illegal levels of air pollution we had before lockdown, their enthusiasm for ‘active travel’ needs to be a permanent switch and not just a short-term gap plugger.

“The government must also end its damaging fixation on building more roads.

“You can’t justify this by planning to phase out polluting petrol and diesel vehicles and replace them with electric ones.

“We need to go much further than just getting out of one type of car and into another.

“Investment in better cycling and walking should be part of a fair and green post-coronavirus economic recovery plan aimed at creating a cleaner, fairer future,” he urged.

There has been an improvement since last year’s audit by the green group, which saw 1,591 sites exceed the annual target.

A spokesperson for the Environment Department (Defra) said: “Air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010 – emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by 33 per cent and are at their lowest level since records began.

“But we know there is more to do, which is why are taking urgent action to curb the impact air pollution has on communities across England through the delivery of our £3.8bn plan to clean up transport and tackle NO2 pollution.

“This includes providing £880m in funding and expert support to local authorities to improve air quality, and to introduce Clean Air Zones to further clean up the air we breathe.”

The 10 sites with the highest annual average nitrogen dioxide levels according to the Friends of the Earth analysis are:

- Chideock Hill, West Dorset 97.7

- Station Taxi Rank, Sheffield 91.7

- North Street Clock Tower, Brighton 90.8

- Neville Street Tunnel, Leeds 88

- Strand, City of Westminster 88

- Walbrook Wharf, City of London 87

- Hickleton opp Fir Tree Close, Doncaster 86

- Marylebone Road, City of Westminster 85

- Euston Road, London Borough of Camden 82.3

- Hickleton, John O’Gaunts, Doncaster 82


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