Air quality in England

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

Last update at (local time)


Real-time England
Most polluted city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1 Chorley


2 Kendal


3 Totnes


4 Brinscall


5 Ringwood


6 Martock


7 Brackley


8 Kingston upon Thames


9 Keighley


10 Hebden Bridge


(local time)



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Real-time England
Cleanest city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1 Scunthorpe


2 Bristol


3 Wetherby


4 Lancaster


5 Hastings


6 Harmondsworth


7 Ilkley


8 Iver Heath


9 Maidstone


10 Gateshead


(local time)


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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?

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

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

80per cent of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from internal combustionengines. The huge increase in the number of cars on the roads means there isnow one car for every two people living in England. This not only has a hugeimpact on air quality but also produces adverse effects such as noisepollution, lack of physical exercise and injuries due to road trafficaccidents.

Woodburning stoves have become very trendy just recently which together with otherbiomass incineration, it too contributes to the overall poor air quality inmany towns and cities in England.

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

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

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

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

Carbondioxide (CO2) emissions produced by vehicles account for 13 per centof the UK total. If this trend continues at the same rate, by 2030 this figurewill be as much as 35 per cent. The easiest way to redress this situation is tochange our travelling habits.

TheDepartment for Transport (DoT) indicates that it is possible to achieve a 60per cent reduction in CO2 but only with a concerted effort from allconcerned. People must be encouraged toembrace 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.

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

Thereare many examples of policies that have proved to be successful in thereduction of air pollution. Industry must start using clean technology that reducesemissions and improves waste management of urban and agricultural waste.Capturing methane gas which is emitted from waste sites can be converted intofuel.

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

Theincreased use of sustainable, low-emission fuels and fuels from non-combustionsources must be developed. Energy from solar panels, wind turbines andhydroelectricity must be utilised to maximum capacity.

Urbanplanners need to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and consider thepossibility of using solar power as their main energy source. More greenery needs to be introduced as a wayof helping clean the air. These can be in parks and other public spacesthroughout the towns and cities.

Does the air quality in England differ throughout the year?

Broadlyspeaking, England enjoys the best air quality from late spring through untilautumn. There are exceptions, of course, but overall, during these summermonths, the air quality is below 10 µg/m³ which is the World HealthOrganisation’s (WHO) target figure. A “Good “figure is between 10 and 12 µg/m³and a “Moderate” one is between 12.2 and 35.4 µg/m³. Figures released for thetop 50 cities and towns in England fall into one of these three categories. In2019, according to data available on the site, 5 cities attained the WHO targetfigure. Thirty three other towns and cities attained a “Good” reading and theremaining 12 ranked as being in the “Moderate” category.

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

Can the quality of air in England be improved?

Aswith any country, most of the air pollution comes from the emissions producedby vehicles which burn fossil fuels. Take these off the roads and the qualityof air will increase dramatically.

Originallythe UK government announced plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel-poweredvehicles by 2040. However, the Rt. Hon. Boris Johnson announced that this is tobe brought forward by 10 years and the ban will now happen in 2030. Hybrid carsthough will be allowed to use the roads until 2035 as they produce no carbonemissions. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have expressedtheir concern about the apparent lack of infrastructure that is necessary forthe effective use of EVs. Over the nextfour years, a budget of over £500 million has been set aside for developmentand production of efficient electric vehicle batteries.

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

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

Plantingtrees, where possible is a proven way of reducing CO2 in theatmosphere.

Theintroduction of “school streets” is being considered which would close the streetsadjacent to school entrances. This would create a clean air zone to helpchildren who are more susceptible to polluted air because their lungs are notyet fully developed.

Sinceair pollution is both damaging to human health and to the environment it is ineverybody’s best interest to help reduce it where possible. This could meanusing energy-efficient appliances at home, turning off appliances and lightswhen not required and recycling waste products and old equipment wherepossible.

Considercarpooling if you know someone who travels at the same time asyou and in a similar direction.

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

Where is the best air quality in England?

InDecember 2018 the place in England with the cleanest air was Windermere inCumbria. Readings naturally vary for several reasons, but a good average forWindermere is a US AQI reading of 38. Other cities which often appear in the “top10” are Barnstaple and Borehamwood who share the fifth spot with readings of7.1 µg/m3 and coming in at number 7 is Gateshead with a 7.3 µg/m3reading.

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

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

Theironic fact of this matter is that in the production of coke which is classedas smokeless is produced by coal-burning facilities. In the late 19thcentury, six million tons of coal were converted into coke in North-EastEngland. During the conversion, two million tons of volatile matter werecreated such as sulphurous acid and carbonic acid. Air pollution was not beingdecreased overall. The air was still being polluted, only in a different partof England.

Theoriginal Act was amended in 1968 which saw tighter controls over chimneyemissions and other legislature. Both Acts were eventually repealed in 1993 bya new Act that was passed which consolidated the previous ones and extended thecover even further.

How is the air pollution level in England measured?

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

Since1998 each local authority in the UK has been responsible for collecting airquality data and analysing the figures. Predictions are made as to what thepollution levels may be in the future and how they may change. The main aim ofthis 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, itmust be declared and an Air Quality Management Area created. This could be arelatively small area of just a few streets or it could be a larger areadepending on the figures. The local authority must then put forward someproposals as to what their intentions are to deal with the situation.

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

Ambientor outdoor air pollution was estimated to have caused the deaths of 4.2 millionpeople worldwide in 2016. This high mortality rate is mainly due to the smallparticulate matter which measures less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5).These microscopic pollutants can easily evade the bodies’ natural defence mechanismand enter the lungs where they penetrate deeply until they become lodged in thealveoli which are the tiny air sacs at the base of the bronchial tubes. Theaverage 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. Thisis where they cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancers.

Peoplewho live in developing countries disproportionately suffer from higher levelsof air pollution with over 91 per cent of premature deaths occurring in low tomiddle-income countries, especially in South East Asia and the Western PacificRegions.

Which is the most polluted city in England?

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