Monday, 25 July 2011

Deadly air pollution rising despite clean air technology, says Brighton and Hove Council report

Graph showing NO2 levels rising in Brighton and Hove after 2008

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) pollution has been increasing since 2008 in parts of Brighton and Hove, despite technology improvements that were supposed to reduce vehicle emissions.

The evidence is given in the graph above, taken from Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) Air Quality Action Plan 2011.

NO2 is linked to increased rates of death from all causes.

It was thought that improvements in engine design since the 1990s would lead to ongoing improvements in pollution levels. This appeared to be the case up to 2008 - but since then NO2 pollution has been increasing again.

The report says:
"It was thought that improvements to engine and fuel technology would reduce NO2 exceedences over time even if little action was taken locally. Nationally and internationally this has not happened to the extent that was anticipated.  In many cities estimates for air quality improvement made in the period 2000 to 2010 have been found to be over optimistic. That said locally in Brighton significant improvements have been recorded up to 2008.  It is likely that AQO compliance very close (<10 metres) to some heavily trafficked and congested roads is not likely to happen prior to 2015. Therefore further local intervention is required.  Brighton and Hove’s reports have consistently confirmed that road traffic is the primary (but not exclusive) contributing factor to poor air quality in the city. Therefore the majority of improvement measures described in the report are related to road traffic including the decisions people make when travelling.

In the main poor air quality in Brighton and Hove is a combination of stop-start heavy vehicles, accelerating engines, and the proximity of buildings adjacent to traffic." 

The report makes a strong case for the importance of this issue. Although some forms of modern air pollution are invisible, they remain deadly:
"Decision makers should be aware that reductions in ambient pollution led by investment in technology is a multiple win situation; for the urban environment, human-health and a positive growth area for the economy. Improvements in air quality aim to protect the most vulnerable members of society; most especially the very young and those with existing respiratory illness. Given that prevention is better than cure it is in the financial interests of government and the health service to save capital by investing in a healthier urban environment. Where the air is poor; airborne pollution can contribute to heart and lung conditions and influence life expectancy. Based on past figures the government white paper on sustainable transport1 estimated that poor air quality costs the UK economy £19 billion per year. As this assessment does not include all airborne pollutants it is likely to be an underestimate. Report by the committee on the medical effects of air pollution suggests fine particulate have a small contribution to 200,000 UK deaths in 2008  equivalent to a variable influence on one-third of annual mortality. A number of international studies also demonstrate a link between urban Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and all cause mortality. The latest evidence now suggests that poor air quality is a greater risk to our society than; alcohol abuse, passive smoking, obesity, flooding and road traffic accidents."
The report identifies modal shift as a key means for reducing air pollution. But in my opinion the report fails to highlight this or put it in the context of what other countries have achieved. This is a cautious approach to the problem in a country where we are reluctant to change our reliance on the private motor car. Modal shift means getting the population to choose sustainable transport en mass. For example, in Holland up to 33% of trips are made by cycle, in the UK this is less than 2%. There is much more discussion on elements of planning for modal transport in other parts of this blog. These points are made in he report, but in a muted way:
"Local business and the general public are both the cause and the solution for the problem of poor outdoor air. This action plan follows an open twelve-week consultation period and sets out how airborne pollution can be reduced in order to improve the outdoor air in Brighton. The final action plan takes account of consultee comments and includes new references to the London Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy and the Sussex Low Emission Strategy. In 2011 Brighton and Hove have been awarded a grant under the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) for reductions in emissions and improvements to local air quality.

The former AQAP (Air Quality Action Plan 2006) and LTP1 (First Local Transport Plan) acknowledged that road traffic was main course and encouraged modal shift; namely avoidance of private car usage and reduction in total traffic numbers, promotion of walking cycling and public transport. It has been identified that most of the traffic within the city is locally generated, with two thirds of vehicles on the road at any one time making trips which begin and end in the city. Many of these shorter journeys could be achieved by more sustainable means.

A successful program to reduce car usage makes sense in terms of reducing fuel consumption, minimising carbon footprint, freeing up road space for all users and making neighbourhoods more conducive to; cycling, walking, social cohesion and play. In our city’s AQMA (Air Quality Management Area), private cars typically contribute between: one-quarter and a half of roadside NO2 pollution. Between three-quarters or a half can arise from other sources notably; trucks, vans, taxis and buses. The majority of locally derived pollution comes from either diesel vehicles or older petrol vehicles. Therefore a policy of travel choice has to be part of a much more comprehensive air quality action plan.
The main reasons for tackling poor air quality are the links with quality of life and the need to minimise the risk to human health."
The report also makes some interesting general observations on the poisons contained in vehicle emissions, and on transport in the city. But there is a tendency to look on the bright side. When the report says say there has been a 27% increase in cycling, and omits to mention that we started at 1.5% of all trips, we are still making less than 2% of trips by cycle. We are far behind our continental partners. On the positive side, the report does make the case that, when compared with the rest of Britain, Brighton and Hove is going in the right direction. Most of the nation is, apparently, increasing its reliance on the car, as B&H gradually reduces it.
"Since 2007 a decrease in traffic volumes has been observed at some locations (in B&H). Further analysis of traffic flow changes is included in the 2010 Air Quality Progress Report (AQPR)3.  Bus patronage has continued to increase every year since 1993. This
compares favourably to the national trend, which has shown a more substantial growth in car use between 1993 and 2007.

The city’s main commercial bus operator, the ‘Brighton and Hove Bus & Coach Company’ has achieved an increase in passenger journeys of approximately 5% each year since 1993. In addition, cycling in Brighton & Hove has substantially grown in recent years – a 27% increase was recorded in the 2006-2008 period.  The seafront cycle lane has one of the highest daily flows of bicycles anywhere in the UK.

Based on 2001 Census figures, vehicle ownership in Brighton & Hove is the lowest in the south-east region (comparable to a London Borough) and one of the lowest nationally. Across the city, there is an average of less than 0.9 cars or vans per household, compared to 1.3 in the South East.  Most traffic in the city is locally generated – some two-thirds of vehicles on the road at any one time are making trips, which begin and end within the city. Journeys from adjacent areas such as Shoreham, Worthing and Lewes also account for a significant proportion of the total traffic." 
Later, the report emphasises the point that many in Brighton still regularly use cars for short journeys (3 miles or less). That's 27,000 necessary journeys a day!

"Cycling in Brighton & Hove has seen substantial growth in recent years. (27% increase recorded in the 2006-2008 period.)  However, around 45% of workers employed in the city use a car to get to work drive less than three miles. This is estimated to be over 27,000 car journeys per day, so there is great potential for increasing safe bicycle use - and also to bring other benefits on both an individual and a wider level."
Link to BHCC AQAP 2011


  1. This is one of the best informative post for me. And you have given nice presentation over this blog. This information is useful for me.
    Joomla web developement

  2. nice post , n very useful pollution reading for me, thanx for sharing that..