Environment

Here's how to check air pollution levels in your area

Air pollution can be attributed to nearly 40,000 deaths per year in UK.

traffic in london

Traffic is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution. (Credit: Anouk Fotografeert/Unsplash)

Pollution affects everyone but some people, particularly in dense urban areas near major roads, will experience higher levels than others. The question is, how do you find out whether the pollution in your area is high or not?

Around 97 per cent of addresses in the UK are in breach of the safe limits of air pollution set by the WHO, according to research for Imperial College London.

And a report published by the UK government in September 2022 shows the ten most polluted areas in the UK in 2021 were:

  • Greater Manchester Urban Area
  • Greater London Urban Area
  • West Midlands Urban Area (includes Birmingham)
  • South Wales (includes Newport)
  • Sheffield Urban Area
  • Glasgow Urban Area
  • Nottingham Urban Area
  • West Yorkshire Urban Area
  • Liverpool Urban Area
  • Bristol Urban Area

So how can you find out pollution levels in your area and what can you do about it?

The non-profit group Central Office of Public Interest (Copi) has created a free interactive tool which allows you to check air pollution levels at your address by simply inputting your postcode at addresspollution.org.

Using data from 2019 (the last uninterrupted year before the pandemic) the tool will rank your address against national pollution levels and provide information about  pollutant levels, their potential health effects, and how it compares to the limits set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

You can put in any postcode in to find your address. (Credit: Copi)

The Copi tool offers a snapshot of the address that you’ve put in and a sliding colour scale of how severe the air pollution is in that area. A white box would be one of the lowest air pollution levels in comparison to other addresses in the UK whereas a purple box would be some of the highest.

It also tells you whether the pollution in that area exceeds limits set out by the WHO and how much of each pollutant is present there.

It will show you the pollutant levels on your address. (Credit: Copi)

What are the consequences of high levels of pollutants?

Nearly 40,000 deaths a year in the UK can be linked to air pollution and seven million worldwide.

The first death directly attributed to air pollution in the UK was of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah who died in 2013 from an asthma attack. She lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south London, one of the busiest roads in the capital. Ella experienced several seizures and visited hospital almost 30 times in the three years before her death.

“Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK,” said Philip Barlow, the assistant coroner for Southwark, at the inquest into Ella’s death.

Ella’s mum Rosamund has been campaigning against dirty air in the 10 years since, warning others not to underestimate the risks of air pollution. Rosamund previously told the Big Issue, “We all appreciated the cleaner air during lockdown. I don’t know one person who didn’t enjoy it but the question is what are we prepared to give up as a nation to get as close as possible to that?”

A study published in March 2021 found that nearly 50,000 children attend schools within 100 metres of major roads, leading to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and various campaign groups such as Mums for Lungs and Choked Up joining forces to demand change and protect children from toxic fumes in the capital.

Oliver Lord, head of policy and campaigns at EDF Europe previously said: “Exposure to air pollution at a young age can irreversibly stunt children’s lungs and create health problems for the rest of their lives”.

What can you do in the meantime?

The UK government currently has targets to reduce the concentration of pollutants in England by 2040, setting out strategies for how they can be removed from transport, at home, in farming, and from production and industrial processes.

But, the target has been criticised by campaigners in the past for being unambitious, as it allows for twice as much pollutant in the atmosphere as the WHO recommends.

Thankfully, Copi’s tool has some recommendations. After showing you the pollutant levels at the postcode you entered, you are encouraged to “demand action” and sign a petition to make estate agents disclose air pollution ratings on property listings so people can make informed decisions about where they should live, meaning you wouldn’t have to check for yourself.

But you can also take steps to reduce your own pollution.

Cutting down on car journeys and commuting on routes that are further away from roads and cars will also help with air quality – there are over 5000 traffic-free journeys on the National Cycle Network for instance – and you can use more public transport and choose eco-friendly transport options instead of driving.

Avoiding domestic burning, such as in open-fires and with wood-burning stoves, can help with local air pollution. For the green-thumbed among us, plant more trees and greeneries if you can or support local gardening initiatives to improve the long-term air quality in the area.

You can also support campaigns and legislation that advocates for clean air and aims at reducing pollutants, sign petitions, and talk to local politicians about your concerns. 

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