Explainer

Air Quality: Where is at risk from pollution?

Nowhere is immune from air pollution because there are many different causes around the country and pollution can travel with the weather.

Urban areas: 

Many areas at risk of air pollution can be obvious - such as urban settings, especially near busy roads where traffic can be slow moving. Rush hour can be particularly bad.

Air pollution from traffic concentrates on the busy roads when cars are stuck in traffic and getting a short distance away from them can make a big difference. Quieter roads have been shown to reduce your exposure to pollution by 20%. 

According to London Air, Imperial College: “In London, pollution concentrations within a few metres of busy roads are normally 2 or 3 times those at background locations, defined as normally at least 50-100m away from busy roads. The most extreme conditions are found in narrow streets lined with tall buildings, which can trap pollution and lead to more elevated concentrations.” 

Areas near some industrial buildings, factories and construction sites are also prone to poor air quality.

Rural areas:

We can also find air pollution in the countryside too.

Farming is the main source of ‘ammonia pollution’ coming from animal waste and fertilizer.

Also, ground-level ozone pollution (not to be confused with the ozone layer itself) tends to be highest in the countryside and in suburbs. This is because it is suppressed by local traffic emissions in towns and cities. 

It’s also important to note that poor air is not tied to where it was produced such as the city - it can move with the weather and end up in the countryside, or even in a different country.

Pollution on the move:

Depending on the weather, we can see pollution from Europe and even Africa combining with our own, covering large parts of the country - both urban and rural. Winds can carry the pollution long distances. Clear examples of this are Saharan dust on our cars and smoke from the Australian bush fires traveling over the Pacific to South America.

Pollution at a standstill: smogs

Smogs are a result of still, stagnant weather. Summer smogs happen during hot weather in urban areas and the surrounding countryside. They are caused by the combination of nitrogen dioxide from industry and traffic pollution, ozone pollution (formed by nitrogen dioxide reacting with sunlight) and particles in the air too.

We can also get winter smogs, such as the Great Smog of 1952 in London. They aren’t as bad now due to legislation but a degree of winter smog combined with cold weather can be a health concern.

Indoor air pollution:

Because we spend the largest proportion of our time inside, pollution in the home is an important issue. It can come from smoking, heating, fires, cooking, other fumes and chemicals, damp and mould.

Daily Air Quality Forecast

For outdoor pollution it’s important to keep up to date with the latest air quality forecast.

The Daily Air Quality Index, and help forecast pollution levels

The Daily Air Quality Index, and help forecast pollution levels

Air Quality Index Example Credit: ITV Weather - with data from DEFRA and Met Office

 It uses a colour coded scale of 1 to 10.

Low air pollution is between 1 and 3, Moderate between 4 and 6, High is between 7 and 9, and Very High is 10 on the scale 

Air pollution levels Credit: ITV Weather, DEFRA and Met Office
  • 1-3: Enjoy your usual outdoor activities

  • 4-6: At risk individuals consider reducing physical activity outdoors

  • 7-9: Anyone experiencing discomfort should reduce physical activity

  • 10: Everyone should avoid or reduce physical activity

You can find more information on air quality on the CleanAirHub