Interview: Life as an Air Quality Officer

Air Quality News talks to Ogo Osammor, Lead Air Quality Officer at Sheffield City Council to find out what his job involves.

Ogo Osammor has been working as an Air Quality Officer at Sheffield City Council for over 12 years and is currently leading on the city’s Air Quality Action Plan.

The primary role of an Air Quality Officer is to assist in implementing in their local authority area all national air quality strategies and plans to protect health. This is achieved through monitoring of air pollution and comparing the results to national standards. But as the dangers of air pollution have been pushed to the forefront and as councils have started to declare climate emergencies the role is now a lot more diverse with increased pressure for results.

‘In Sheffield, air pollution is responsible for an estimated 500 deaths a year and the city like many other cities of similar size across the UK has been in breach of legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) since January 2010,’ explains Ogo.

‘Because of this, a big part of my job is source apportionment, this is the process of establishing where the air pollution is coming from and working out how much of it is coming from traffic, industry, or commercial sources.

‘We then use this data to help inform policy at a local governmental level. We work closely with Transport Officers, planning officers, and public transport providers to identify ways to reduce emissions.

‘We also engage with Senior Managers, Air Quality Officers from neighbouring local authorities, Barnsley, Doncaster, and Rotherham, consult with the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), National Highways, Environment Agency, the Institute of Air Quality Management, as necessary, to discuss air quality standards and to explore how to reduce emissions.’

aerial photography of houses

Another major role for an Air Quality Officer is to work with developers. They are required to apply to a local authority for permission to develop proposed developments greater than a certain size or complexity. If emissions from the development are likely to be detrimental to air quality, a material planning condition, then development planners consult Air Quality Officers for their opinion on mitigation measures, including planning conditions.

‘We work closely with the public and local politicians who may be contacted by their constituents who have air pollution concerns,’ explains Ogo.

In the 12 years since Ogo has been working as an Air Quality Officer a lot has changed in the world of air quality, especially for local authorities.

‘ClientEarth has played a hugely influential role in highlighting the urgency around air pollution. Thanks to ClientEarth our role about monitoring of air pollution has strengthened but also about helping to implement measures and solutions to reduce it,’ explains Ogo.

Since ClientEarth successfully took the government to Court over illegal levels of air pollution, local authorities across the country have been mandated to improve air quality in the ‘shortest possible time frame,’ and for many councils, that has involved implementing a Clean Air Zone (CAZ).

Sheffield is one of these cities and so is due to introduce Class C CAZ in late 2022. Once live, buses, taxis, vans and lorries that do not meet certain emissions standards will have to pay to drive into the zone.

‘Once the CAZ has launched, our role will be to continue to report on the levels of local air pollution. Just because a city has become compliant, the local authorities still must demonstrate that the clean air standards will no longer be breached.

‘As with all our work, monitoring is key. It is often said that if you can’t count then you can’t manage, if we don’t monitor air pollution then we’ll never know what is going on or how to improve it.’

Under the National Air Quality Strategy, if a council finds an area where air pollution exceeds national air pollution standards then they are required to declare it an Air Quality Management Area. Once this has been done, the officers are then required to identify measures (Air Quality Action Plan) that the authority needs to implement to reduce pollution to a level that is compliant.

‘My role is to ensure that the local authority is aware of the local air pollution levels and then work with other officers to invoke policies that will help to bring down the levels.’

Another monumental shift in the air quality world was when coroner Philip Barlow ruled that air pollution made a ‘material contribution’ to the death of 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah.

According to Ogo this shifted public perception and understanding of air pollution.

‘Despite scientists clearly identifying the impact that air pollution make on our health there remains speculation in some quarters about the true risks.

‘Ella’s case has helped to clearly establish a legal basis and a causal relationship between air pollution and human health.’

As pressure has been placed on local authorities to clean up their air, councils have had to find new ways and approaches and as an Air Quality Officer, I have engaged in initiating and supporting campaigns and projects that help to reduce air pollution and raise awareness. Ogo commented that he is involved in many exciting projects this includes our Air Aware Campaign, Electric Vehicle Taxi trial, Anti-Idling campaign, the introduction of School Streets, Electric Bike trial, ECO Stars and Clean Bus Technology Funded bus retrofit.

‘A lot has indeed changed in the past ten years and action on air pollution has become more important than ever’ says Ogo.

‘I now work as part of our Climate Change and Sustainability Service, working alongside colleagues who are taking forward our net-zero carbon programmes, as Sheffield has also committed to become net-zero by 2030.

Air pollution is ubiquitous and so too, our professional work.


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Benjamin Elliott
Benjamin Elliott
2 years ago

Interesting read, thanks for sharing Ogo.
Can my photography in this article be credited? Thanks! 🙂

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