Air pollution levels in Oxford increasing after drop in pandemic

Air pollution levels in Oxford are increasing again, after a significant drop in 2020 due to the pandemic, new figures reveal.

The new data examines the average air pollution levels across 88 air pollution monitoring locations in the city during 2021.

The data shows a 14% increase in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels on 2020 levels, but pollution levels are still 17% below levels before the pandemic in 2019.

The rise highlights the need to take ‘urgent action’ to prevent a return to previous levels, according to Oxford City Council.

Before the pandemic, air pollution levels in the city were plateauing after a significant drop due to the introduction of the Low Emission Zone for buses in 2013.

In order to see another major reduction more action is needed to reduce the number of cars on the road and promote electric vehicle use, says the Council.

bicycles parked on sidewalk near buildings during daytime

All monitoring stations across the city were complaint with the national legal limit for NO2 of 40 µg/m3, but 10 locations were above the Council’s own local annual mean target.

Last year, the Council approved a new Air Quality Action Plan for the city which sets its own voluntary target for 30 µg/m3 of NO2 to be achieved by 2025 at the latest.

St Clements Street – traditionally Oxford’s most air polluted road – continued to have the highest air pollution levels, with an annual NO2 mean of 39 µg/m3 – only 1 µg/m3 below the UK’s annual mean limit.

According to data from Oxfordshire County Council, in 2021 traffic levels increased by 14% on the main arterial routes in and out of Oxford

Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5) saw no significant rise or fall compared to 2020 levels.

Cllr Louise Upton, Cabinet Member for Health and Transport at Oxford City Council, said: ‘Transport emissions accounts for 68% of NOx emissions in the Oxford, and in 2021 we saw a 14% increase in air pollution levels compared with 2020 levels due to the easing of coronavirus measures and a rise in traffic across the city.

‘While this is lower than pre-pandemic levels, we still need to take urgent action to ensure it does not return to previous levels which were damaging to everyone’s health. In order to do this, we need to reduce the number of cars on our road and encourage the switch to electric vehicles, travelling by public transport, or walking and cycling wherever possible.’

Photo by James Coleman


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Bruce Dale
Bruce Dale
2 years ago

Believe that a similar trend was experienced in many of the cities in the world. Traffic emissions did increase post “lockdown” and hopefully Oxford will be able to implement the planning initiatives identified.

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