Office for Environmental Protection release Air Quality Stocktake

Environmental consultants Ricardo were commissioned by the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) to undertake a review of air quality issues in England and Northern Ireland, which the OEP have now released.

They were tasked with identifying causes of air pollution and compiling a comprehensive stocktake of current and emerging air quality pollutants, an assessment of the risk they pose and ways to reduce this pollution. 

a street filled with lots of traffic next to tall buildings

Of the 108 pollutants included in the stocktake, 18 were classified as emerging, because of either new research or their increasing prevalence. The risk assessment of each pollutant was measured by aggregating three factors: current risk, future risk (based on whether the current situation is likely to improve or deteriorate) and the quality of evidence. 

Taking black carbon as an example:

  • Current risk:  Very High.
  • Future risk: No Change.
  • Quality of evidence: moderate
  • Overall risk: High

The ten pollutants deemed most dangerous were categorised as Tier 1, and those considered to be of less concern were in Tier 2. The remainder were excluded from further investigation as they are no longer considered to be a threat (eg carbon monoxide, which has been in compliance with Air Quality Standards Regulation since 2008)

Of the Tier 1 pollutants, two were picked out as being ‘very high risk pollutants’ – PM2.5 and ultrafine particles, with Ricardo observing: ‘The 2030 target for PM2.5 is at risk of not being met.’

Of the Tier 2 pollutants, Bioaerosols jumps out as the only one for which Quality of Evidence is rated as poor, the report stating: ‘There is currently poor understanding of the composition and behaviour of bioaerosols in ambient air. Levels may increase in the future.’

The report contains a register of recommendations to government and commitments made by government for improving air quality in England and Northern Ireland. The latter focusses on UK government and Local Authority commitments (via AQAPs) before moving on to scrutiny bodies.

Ricardo observe that the scrutiny bodies who periodically publish recommendations to Government on air quality matters, might have close government links or be from lobby groups, but the recommendations still tend to fall into seven themes, all of which are examined in the document.

Of particular interest in the document is a table which provides a summary of delivery mechanisms available to reduce pollution. Various mechanisms are applied to sources of pollution and the efficacy of those remedies is judged against how they would be expect to impact the prevalence of eight major pollutants. For example:

  1. Sector: Road Transport 
  2. Delivery mechanism: Land use planning and vehicle restriction 
  3. Impact on pollutant: NO2 – medium. PM2.5 – medium. SO2 – low. Dioxins – none.

The full report can be downloaded here


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