Air quality in England

Air quality index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in England

LAST UPDATE (local time)


Real-time England
Most polluted city ranking

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#cityUS AQI
1 Hayes


2 Ashford


3 Lewes


4 Cheltenham


5 Redcar


6 Crowborough


7 Stoke-on-Trent


8 Worsley


9 Christchurch


10 Haydock


(local time)


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Real-time England
Cleanest city ranking

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#cityUS AQI
1 Exeter


2 Helsby


3 Saint Osyth


4 Stape


5 Burwell


6 Derby


7 Godalming


8 King's Lynn


9 Weybridge


10 Barnsley


(local time)

Unhealthy for sensitive groups
Very unhealthy
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How to best protect from air pollution?

Reduce your air pollution exposure in England

What are the sources of air pollution in England?

Emissions from the transportation system is the highest contributor to air pollution followed by emissions from coal-fired power stations and then industry. Surprisingly, agricultural practices are a prominent source as it collectively produces 88 per cent of the UK’s ammonia gas. This gas combines with other naturally occurring substances and produces a particulate matter which is harmful to humans.

Although still in the planning stage, it is intended to phase out coal from England’s choice of energy. It has always been problematic and the main source of much of the air pollution of the past.

80 per cent of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from internal combustion engines. The huge increase in the number of cars on the roads means there is now one car for every two people living in England. This not only has a huge impact on air quality but also produces adverse effects such as noise pollution, lack of physical exercise and injuries due to road traffic accidents.

Wood burning stoves have become very trendy just recently which together with other biomass incineration, it too contributes to the overall poor air quality in many towns and cities in England.

Air pollution can have both long and short-term effects on health and some groups of people are more susceptible than others. People with existing respiratory problems with their heart and/or lungs will be seriously affected by air pollution. Healthcare professionals, parents and people who care for others will want to know about the level of air pollution so they can make an informed decision as to what action to take.

Is there a strategy that can improve air quality in England?

As part of the environment Act 1995, all local authorities are required to access and review the quality of air in their respective areas. If levels are in excess of the standards laid down by law, then the area should be designated as an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and proposals made as to what can be done to reduce the levels to an acceptable standard. Their findings and intentions must be made available to the public whose comments should be welcomed.

Air pollution is detrimental to health as well as badly impacting the environment. Approximately 32,000 deaths are caused each year by air pollution. This figure will worsen as particulate matter suspended in the air increases. These microscopic PM2.5 particles aggravate existing respiratory problems.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions produced by vehicles account for 13 per cent of the UK total. If this trend continues at the same rate, by 2030 this figure will be as much as 35 per cent. The easiest way to redress this situation is to change our travelling habits.

The Department for Transport (DoT) indicates that it is possible to achieve a 60 per cent reduction in CO2 but only with a concerted effort from all concerned. People must be encouraged to embrace a walking and cycling revolution. This is the only way to see a much-needed reduction in carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and other airborne particulates.

It may not seem obvious but there is a link between cattle and dairy farming and air pollution. Rearing livestock is the largest producer of air pollutants at over 50 per cent. Most of this is in the form of ammonia which also pollutes the ground and surface water.

There are many examples of policies that have proved to be successful in the reduction of air pollution. Industry must start using clean technology that reduces emissions and improves waste management of urban and agricultural waste. Capturing methane gas which is emitted from waste sites can be converted into fuel.

In the transportation sector, rapid urban transit systems must take priority and walking and cycling networks must be established and made readily available. Heavy-duty vehicles which currently use diesel must be phased out and the introduction of cleaner, low-emission ones be used as replacements.

The increased use of sustainable, low-emission fuels and fuels from non-combustion sources must be developed. Energy from solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectricity must be utilised to maximum capacity.

Urban planners need to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and consider the possibility of using solar power as their main energy source. More greenery needs to be introduced as a way of helping clean the air. These can be in parks and other public spaces throughout the towns and cities.

Does the air quality in England differ throughout the year?

Broadly speaking, England enjoys the best air quality from late spring through until autumn. There are exceptions, of course, but overall, during these summer months, the air quality is below 10 µg/m³ which is the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) target figure. A “Good “figure is between 10 and 12 µg/m³ and a “Moderate” one is between 12.2 and 35.4 µg/m³. Figures released for the top 50 cities and towns in England fall into one of these three categories. In 2019, according to data available on the site, 5 cities attained the WHO target figure. Thirty three other towns and cities attained a “Good” reading and the remaining 12 ranked as being in the “Moderate” category.

When comparing the UK with the rest of the world, in 2019 it ranked 78 out of the 98 countries which were taken into consideration when judging how clean their air was.

Can the quality of air in England be improved?

As with any country, most of the air pollution comes from the emissions produced by vehicles which burn fossil fuels. Take these off the roads and the quality of air will increase dramatically.

Originally the UK government announced plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040. However, the Rt. Hon. Boris Johnson announced that this is to be brought forward by 10 years and the ban will now happen in 2030. Hybrid cars though will be allowed to use the roads until 2035 as they produce no carbon emissions. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have expressed their concern about the apparent lack of infrastructure that is necessary for the effective use of EVs. Over the next four years, a budget of over £500 million has been set aside for development and production of efficient electric vehicle batteries.

The initial cost of buying an electric car is often considerably higher than a petrol-driven one. However, the saving will be made immediately because they are cheaper to run. It will cost between £4-6 to charge a vehicle at home which will allow it to run for about 100 miles. If it is charged at a public charging point then the cost will be higher at £8-10. The most cost-effective way of charging the vehicle is at home, overnight if you have access to off-peak electricity.

There are fewer moving parts in an electric vehicle and therefore cheaper to maintain and operate with much lower servicing costs. Many concessions are available in different towns and cities by way of making them more “user-friendly”. Some cities make parking available at no charge for electric vehicles. They will possibly have a higher resale value too, especially as it gets closer to 2030.

Planting trees, where possible is a proven way of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.

The introduction of “school streets” is being considered which would close the streets adjacent to school entrances. This would create a clean air zone to help children who are more susceptible to polluted air because their lungs are not yet fully developed.

Since air pollution is both damaging to human health and to the environment it is in everybody’s best interest to help reduce it where possible. This could mean using energy-efficient appliances at home, turning off appliances and lights when not required and recycling waste products and old equipment where possible.

Consider carpooling if you know someone who travels at the same time as you and in a similar direction.

Keep your vehicle serviced correctly so that it operates efficiently and causes minimum pollution.

Where is the best air quality in England?

In December 2018 the place in England with the cleanest air was Windermere in Cumbria. Readings naturally vary for several reasons, but a good average for Windermere is a US AQI reading of 38. Other cities which often appear in the “top 10” are Barnstaple and Borehamwood who share the fifth spot with readings of 7.1 µg/m3 and coming in at number 7 is Gateshead with a 7.3 µg/m3 reading.

Did the Clean Air Act of 1956 help make England’s air better?

The Clean Air Act was passed by the UK parliament in 1956 in response to the Great London Smog of 1952. The act introduced many ways to reduce air pollution, primarily by smoke. Smokeless fuel was to be made mandatory in heavily populated areas and especially in city centres. One of the pollutants contained in smoke is sulphur dioxide (SO2), which when combined with other pollutants and water, produces acid rain. This is very destructive to many of the old English buildings which were built from sandstone. It is a beautiful sandy yellow colour when it’s newly built but can take on a dirty, almost black appearance when polluted by the dirty city air. When acid rain falls on this soft sandstone it is easily eroded and soon becomes damaged.

The ironic fact of this matter is that in the production of coke which is classed as smokeless is produced by coal-burning facilities. In the late 19th century, six million tons of coal were converted into coke in North-East England. During the conversion, two million tons of volatile matter were created such as sulphurous acid and carbonic acid. Air pollution was not being decreased overall. The air was still being polluted, only in a different part of England.

The original Act was amended in 1968 which saw tighter controls over chimney emissions and other legislature. Both Acts were eventually repealed in 1993 by a new Act that was passed which consolidated the previous ones and extended the cover even further.

How is the air pollution level in England measured?

It is the responsibility of The Environment Agency to control and monitor the sites on behalf of the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). There are currently over 300 sites spread across the UK which gather information which can be used in different ways. Information is collected from both automatic and non-automatic sites.

Since 1998 each local authority in the UK has been responsible for collecting air quality data and analysing the figures. Predictions are made as to what the pollution levels may be in the future and how they may change. The main aim of this is to ensure that clean air targets are met before the relevant deadlines. If an area looks as though it is not going to achieve the desired standard, it must be declared and an Air Quality Management Area created. This could be a relatively small area of just a few streets or it could be a larger area depending on the figures. The local authority must then put forward some proposals as to what their intentions are to deal with the situation.

What are the consequences of breathing in polluted air in England?

Ambient or outdoor air pollution was estimated to have caused the deaths of 4.2 million people worldwide in 2016. This high mortality rate is mainly due to the small particulate matter which measures less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5). These microscopic pollutants can easily evade the bodies’ natural defence mechanism and enter the lungs where they penetrate deeply until they become lodged in the alveoli which are the tiny air sacs at the base of the bronchial tubes. The average number of these air sacs is almost 5 million in a full-grown human. From here, they pass into the bloodstream and eventually reach the heart. This is where they cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancers.

People who live in developing countries disproportionately suffer from higher levels of air pollution with over 91 per cent of premature deaths occurring in low to middle-income countries, especially in South East Asia and the Western Pacific Regions.

Which is the most polluted city in England?

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