Does the UK keep a close enough eye on air pollution?

On February 15, 2013, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, then just nine years old, had a deadly asthma attack. In 2020, she was the first person in the UK to have air pollution officially recognized as a significant factor in their demise. Rosamund, Ella’s mother, was sure that pollution from excessive traffic near their Lewisham, south-east London, home was a contributing cause and had long lobbied for a second inquiry. Rosamund’s worries were validated by the new inquiry, which concluded that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions had above the levels in the UK and the EU. Additionally, it was determined that the levels of PM2.5 and PM10, two harmful airborne particulates, had above WHO recommendations.

Deputy Coroner Philip Barlow came to the conclusions that “delay in reducing the levels of atmospheric air pollution is the cause of avoidable deaths” and that “air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma”. He added that a lack of air quality monitoring was another factor contributing to the general public’s continued misunderstanding of this silent killer. What then has changed, and how has technology for monitoring air pollution improved?

Air pollution monitoring sites in the UK currently number 555, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), an increase from 424 in 2020. The most hazardous pollutants, including NO2, SO2, ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxide (NO), PM2.5, and PM10, are measured, either whole or in part. The latter two are made up of microscopic particles that are released into the air as a result of combustion, brake pads, tire wear, vehicle exhausts, and industrial operations. Defra creates daily air quality estimates for its UK-Air website using the monitoring networks.

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