Government pollution data shows particulate matter increase

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has published its annual update on emissions of important air pollutants in the UK.

Air pollution generic

The UK is currently in breach of legal limits for particulate matter

The dataset covers UK emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), ammonia (NH3) and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5).

While Defra reported “a long term decrease in the emissions of all of the air pollutants covered” particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and ammonia emissions failed to drop and even increased from 2014 to 2015.

There was an increase of 1.7% in emissions of ammonia between 2014 and 2015, the second consecutive annual increase since 1997, the report suggests.

And, PM2.5 emissions increased by 0.9% between 2014 and 2015 and PM10 emissions decreased by less than 0.1 kilo-tonnes from 2014 to 2015. According to the report, the trend for both pollutants has been fairly static over the past 6 years, with emissions of both pollutants only marginally higher in 2015 than in 2009.

Particulate matter

The report also acknowledges that the UK is currently in breach of international and EU ceilings for particulate matter. This includes the Gothenburg Protocol, signed in 2012, which requires the UK to reduce emissions of PM2.5 by 30% compared to 2005 emissions by 2020.

The UK continues to meet current international and EU ceilings for emissions of ammonia, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds and sulphur dioxide.

Road transport accounts for 14% of PM10 and 13% of PM2.5 emissions in 2015 — the third largest source after combustion in residential, public, commercial & agricultural sectors, and industrial processes. Most of the emissions from residential, public, commercial combustion in these last three years — 79% for both pollutants — are from the use of wood as a domestic fuel.

However, the report acknowledges the significant health risks associated with particulate matter. It said: “Long term exposure to particulate matter contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer. Particles can be inhaled and penetrate into the lungs.

“The smaller the particles, the deeper they can penetrate into the lungs and therefore health impacts are more strongly associated with the smaller PM2.5 fraction.”


The report did see significant drops in other emissions. Sulphur dioxide emissions decreased by 23% and nitrogen oxide emissions decreased by 4% in 2015 compared to 2014, which the report attributes to the introduction of catalytic converters and stricter emission regulations

Defra’s National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) provides estimates of the amount of different pollutants that are emitted to the air each year from human activity in the UK. Defra said that “knowledge of the sources of pollution aids the development of strategies to reduce air pollution from human activities and thereby reduce the impact of pollution on the environment and our health.”

The new European National Emissions Ceilings(NEC) directive, which is expected to be published soon, will to set tighter national targets for the five key pollutants – sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, ammonia and fine particulate matter (see story).

The next scheduled release of the National Statistic will be in December 2017.


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