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|Air pollution level||Air quality index||Main pollutant|
|Good|| 17* US AQI||PM2.5|
PM2.5 concentration in Birmingham air currently meets the WHO annual air quality guideline value
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Good 17 US AQI
|Tuesday, Aug 9|
Good 23 US AQI
|Wednesday, Aug 10|
Good 34 US AQI
|Thursday, Aug 11|
Good 28 US AQI
|Friday, Aug 12|
Good 29 US AQI
|Saturday, Aug 13|
Good 27 US AQI
|Sunday, Aug 14|
Good 29 US AQI
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Birmingham is a city located in the west midlands of the United Kingdom, some 163km away from the capital city of London. Like many cities in England, it has a rich history of industry going back hundreds of years to the era of industrial revolution. Pollution levels would have been elevated even in times past due to the large amount of coal and other materials used to power these industrial plants. In present times, with many of these historical factories having been long gone, pollution still seems to be a part of day to day life in the city, with relatively high readings being shown in Birmingham when compared to many other cities in England.
When observing the levels of pollution recorded in Birmingham over the year of 2019, it can be seen that its yearly average came in at a number of 9.7 µg/m³, in regards to the level of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5 in the air. This PM2.5 refers to fine particulate matter roughly 3% of the diameter of a human hair, or 2.5 or less micrometers in diameter, making it extremely small and thus dangerous when inhaled, hence why it is used as a primary measurement of air pollution and for calculating air quality index numbers.
Returning to the yearly average as taken in 2019, this reading of 9.7 µg/m³ put Birmingham into the World Health Organizations target rating of any reading between 0 to 10 µg/m³ being optimal for healthy air quality. This reading placed it in 59th place out of all cities in the UK in terms of air pollution, and 2718th place out of all the cities ranked worldwide in 2019. Whilst these are good positions, with a yearly average falling into the WHO’s target meaning that the overall air quality is very respectable, there are certain months that see large pollution spikes, meaning that the air pollution levels may be hazardous to peoples health at certain times of the year, and as such staying up to date and taking preventative measures may be helpful during these times.
Birmingham sees the majority of its pollution coming from sources such as vehicle fumes and emissions. There are a large number of roads around Birmingham that are known for their high levels of pollution and smoke buildup, with pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) being found in elevated concentrations around such areas. Nitrogen dioxide, and other forms of nitrogen oxides (NOx) are often the main pollutant found in areas with high vehicle concentration, so much so that satellite or other pollution reading methods that show high levels of nitrogen dioxide often directly match with a high amount of traffic, and as such these high levels can be used to predict if an area has a vehicular pollution problem, due to their distinct correlation with one another.
Sulfur dioxide is also another form of pollution that comes from vehicles (as well as the burning of wood and coal, which is still common in fireplaces and other traditional heat stoves found country wide, as is common in all countries that see colder months of the year). As well as being a noxious gas to breathe, it also affects the climate by entering into rain clouds and raising the level of acidity, giving rise to the infamous phenomena of acid rain.
Other pollutants that find themselves being emitted from vehicles include carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) as well as hydrocarbons and black carbon, the latter of which is the primary component in soot and has disastrous effects on health when inhaled, due to its tiny size and chemical structure. Even the act of refueling a car can cause gasoline fumes to enter the atmosphere, adding to the ambient year-round pollution levels. So, to summate, the main causes of pollution in Birmingham are vehicle fumes and other pollutants arising from the motor vehicle industry as a whole, as well as the burning of wood and fossil fuels during colder months.
When observing the data of PM2.5 readings taken during 2019, it is apparent that the air pollution levels are worse during the winter months. This finds its roots in the burning of coal and other organic matter such as wood, which can release a variety of the previously mentioned pollutants such as volatile organic compounds and black carbon, both of which are created by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels (as well as organic matter such as wood or other dead plant materials). These would cause pollution levels to rise during the coldest months, as can be clearly seen on the IQAir reading chart for the city, with February coming in as the most polluted month with a PM2.5 reading of 20.8 µg/m³.
The use of diesel fuels in motor vehicles would also add to the year-round pollution levels, and contribute to causing areas of particularly bad smoke and haze buildup. As diesel is also a fossil fuel, its continued use would see pollution levels that are higher than they should be if cleaner fuel alternatives were to be used, showing the highly negative impact that the use of fossil fuels has on air quality in Birmingham.
Looking at the readings of 2019, the months that came in with the highest levels of PM2.5 were January, February and April, as well as November coming in with slightly elevated readings, however not as prominently raised as the months at the beginning of the year. As previously mentioned, February came in at the absolute worst, with a reading of 20.8 µg/m³, putting it into the ‘moderate’ pollution bracket (12.1 to 35.4 µg/m³ to be classed as such), followed by April at 19.3 µg/m³, and then January at 12.2 µg/m³. This is indicative that the months of February and April had the most prominent levels of pollution, with potentially hazardous spikes occurring that may cause health issues for vulnerable demographics of the population.
Regarding the data recorded over the last few years, it shows that indeed the level of air quality in Birmingham is slowly getting better, although as mentioned there are months with particularly high levels of PM2.5 that are still tainting the years overall readings, and as it stands it could certainly be cleaner.
However, for now, the air has shown a trend that tends towards positive improvements, with the year of 2017 coming in at an average of 10.6 µg/m³, followed by a sudden rise in 2018 to 11.8 µg/m³, both of which put it into the ‘good’ rated air quality bracket. In more modern times, the 2019 reading was within the WHO’s target goal of 9.7 µg/m³, showing a marked improvement, and if this trend continues, it stands to reason that the air quality in Birmingham will only continue to improve, if of course the sources of pollution are addressed with proper enforcement and long-term initiatives.