Campaigners discover new air pollution concerns

1 November 2016

The Green Party has completed a second air pollution monitoring exercise in St Albans and Harpenden, following on from its monitoring in March-April. The results are deeply concerning, and show that many of us are at real risk of having our health affected by polluting traffic.

The independently-measured results indicate that much of central St Albans greatly exceeds the legal limits laid down for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is both a nasty pollutant in itself, and a strong indicator of other pollutants, particularly from road traffic.

The recent testing confirms known hotspots in Holywell Hill and St Peter’s Street. But it also shows high pollution levels along most of Hatfield Road and other locations. In Harpenden, limits were breached on the Luton Road.

Other danger spots include parts of London Road, Ashley Road, and Drakes Drive in St Albans, and Station Road and Southdown Road in Harpenden.

Local Green Party campaigner Keith Cotton said, "Local air pollution is exactly that! Some areas in our district breach health guidelines around critical areas of congestion and public exposure. We will champion locally focussed solutions to help us all breathe a little easier.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines NO2 pollution above 40ugm-3 (micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air) as harmful to human health. This concentration was adopted in the EU Air Quality Directive (1988) with an obligation on all member states to achieve these ‘Limit Values’. The UK Environment Act (1995) enshrined these in UK law.

NO2 inflames the lining of the lung and reduces immunity to lung infections such as bronchitis. The most common outcomes are respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and coughs. Studies also suggest that the health effects are more pronounced in people with asthma compared to others. 

And high levels of NO2 around traffic hot-spots usually go hand-in-hand with the presence of another key pollutant – Particulate Matter (PM).

Larger particles are generally filtered in the nose and throat and do not cause problems. But particles smaller than about 10 micrometres, referred to as PM10 and particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), can settle in the airways and deep in the lungs and cause health problems. The health effects of particle air pollution have been widely studied, and include premature death and the worsening of heart and lung disease, often increasing admissions to hospital. Children are at particular risk.

Recent studies (1) found that 52,000 people a year in the UK have their lives shortened by air pollution. For St Albans district, this suggests a figure of around 100 people a year.

The Green Party is pleased to see that Hertfordshire’s Health and Wellbeing Board has noted concern over poor air quality and the established links to premature deaths in the area, Their commitment to work in partnership with local authorities to understand the issue further is positive.

But Herts County and St Albans District Councils have yet to put in place effective measures to help deal with this hidden menace, as evidenced by the poor results in our indicative monitoring exercises.

The Green Party is calling for real action on this crucial public health issue. It believes that as a start the Councils should clean up buses and taxis, improve walking and cycling facilities, and take specific actions to cut emissions from around schools. 

These and many other measures will be explored and discussed at a public meeting on air pollution on Friday 25 November, starting at 7pm, at Trinity United Reformed Church, Beaconsfield Road, AL1 3RD



1. The figures are in table 9.2 on page 44


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