Air quality and air pollution

Air pollution affects amenity, environment, life and healthy life expectancy. Air quality is strongly linked to concerns regarding climate change, energy efficiency and sustainable development.

During the 1900s, excess deaths during ‘smogs’ focused attention on coal-burning. Today the focus is on emissions of particulate matters (PM2.5 and PM10) and on respiratory irritants such as NO2 from transport and from burning biomass:

  • Particulate matter (PM10 and especially PM2.5) - tiny pieces of matter suspended in the atmosphere, including particles from combustion, minerals and salts;
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a reactive gas mainly associated with combustion, involved in complex atmospheric chemistry.

Our reliance on cars links closely with other health-related concerns: less physical activity, obesity, reduced life / healthy life expectancy, noise pollution from traffic, road safety for cyclists and walkers. Reducing that reliance and promoting cleaner vehicle technologies contributes to better air quality, public health and amenity.

The government expects Local Authorities (LAs) to set a good example and to incorporate health, environment and amenity concerns into transport, planning, sustainable development and climate change policies.

The local picture

A Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Department of Health (DH) Committee on the medical effects of air pollutants (COMEAP) associates exposure to anthropogenic particulate matter (PM 2.5) with respiratory and cardiovascular illness and mortality. In England there were 29,000 excess premature deaths in 2008.

In 2013 in Calderdale 4.5% (Public Health England (PHE), Public Health Outcomes Framework (PHOF) Adult mortality indicators ) of all adult mortality was estimated to be due to long-term exposure to harmful particulate air pollution. It is now widely accepted that this rate is even higher when the effects of nitrogen dioxide are taken into consideration.

The two main causes of lung disease are smoking and air pollution. Between 2012 and 2014, Calderdale was ranked 122 out of 149 local authorities with one of the highest rates of premature death due to respiratory disease. This was 45 deaths per 100,000 people per year, ie 76 deaths per year for our population of 206,355. The main causes of cardiovascular disease are smoking, poor diet and physical inactivity, and high blood pressure. Pollution and road safety issues that discourage physical activity, eg walking and cycling, are therefore a concern.

Calderdale has 7 Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) because of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) - a respiratory irritant and contributor to airborne particulates. These are at:

  • Salterhebble;
  • Sowerby Bridge;
  • Hebden Bridge;
  • Luddendenfoot;
  • Stump Cross;
  • Brighouse;
  • Hipperholme.

Separate to Calderdale’s own monitoring in December 2015, DEFRA estimated (ie, modelled) that some roads in Calderdale were subjected to annual average levels of NO2 of between 40 and 60ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre) as at 2015.

These were:

  • A629 at Salterhebble and Skircoat, Halifax;
  • the area between the A629 / A643 Lindley Moor Road and the M62 at Ainley Top;
  • A644 Wakefield Road from central Brighouse via J25 of the M62 to Cooper Bridge;
  • A62 Cooper Bridge Road;
  • A58 from Orange Street roundabout Halifax along, New Bank and Godley Lane;
  • where the A640 enters Outlane near the M62 at Junction 23 (probably just outside Calderdale).

No areas projected as exceeding 40ug/m3 in 2015 are projected to exceed this level by 2020, but those projections are dependent upon a number of factors that may be outside the control of the government. It should be noted that the roads within the AQMAs at Hebden Bridge, Luddendenfoot, Sowerby Bridge, Hipperholme and a large part of Brighouse are not presently being modelled by DEFRA as exceeding 40ug/m3 as at 2015, yet Calderdale Council is measuring the air quality as exceeding this level.

Current provision

Calderdale Council directly regulates around 80 permitted industrial installations, and many other lesser installations across the Borough for emissions to air. In some cases there is a regulatory function in respect of energy efficiency. Indirectly it works in close liaison with the Environment Agency as regards emissions regulated by the Agency. Smoke Control Orders cover domestic chimney emissions in most urban and some rural areas. Calderdale Council's Housing, Environment and Renewal service also carries out investigations about fugitive and chimney smoke emissions as part of its statutory duties.

The Environment Act 1995 and the PHOF reinforce the need to monitor air pollution, and to take action in respect of breaches of air quality objectives. At present, 3 real time NO2 monitors and 36 passive NO2 monitors are operated in Calderdale.

In 2015 Calderdale Council upgraded its real time NO2 monitors and started to measure PM2.5 (Particulate matter) at two locations and PM10 at a third. The UK Government is currently in breach of parts of the European Union (EU) Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EU) relating to pollutant concentration limits, and could face substantial fines from infraction proceedings which could in principle be devolved to local government (via the Localism Act).

From early 2016, Environmental Health will extend its deployment of diffusion tubes with an additional 15 tubes to monitor NO2 levels at strategic points for comparison with the government’s modelled pollution concentrations on those roads identified by DEFRA as well as schools located on roads of concern. The whole network is expected to operate until approximately 2018.

Calderdale Council, via its Environmental Health Department, contributes to the planning consultation process by recommending sustainable development and promoting facilities for sustainable transport. Calderdale Council is collaborating with the four other West Yorkshire Local Authorities to create and implement the West Yorkshire Low Emission Strategy (WYLES). The ‘WYLES’ will set common approaches to facilitate a reduction in vehicle emissions across the region whilst contributing to an improvement in the health outcomes for Calderdale’s residents wherever they live. Calderdale Council is also exploring an option to join ECOstars, a growing national initiative aimed at commercial and industrial vehicle operators. This combines recognising and minimising emissions, with monetary savings to the operators. Joining ECOstars will be subject to the availability of funding, and the capacity of officers to supply surveyors with supporting data.

User views

The WYLES Low Emissions Strategy includes the planning guidance for developers. Also, see: Air quality reports .

Unmet needs

Austerity measures impact on all our capabilities. Another concern is the lack of coherent policy and, in some cases, a lack of cooperation embracing all council functions and services.

Projected future need

  • Revise the Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP);
  • extend the Environmental Health service resource to improve the capability to respond to air quality concerns in their many forms;
  • review the financing of the Air quality monitoring network in the period 2018-2020.

Key considerations linked to the known evidence base (what works)

See 'Current provision' for reference to data from PHOF Adult mortality indicators , and PHE Longer lives, healthier lives .

There is recognition that improvements to front line Public Health will reduce the demands on the NHS whilst improving the quality of life for Calderdale's residents. This will gain an increasing financial importance as local authorities bear more of the costs for home care.

References and further information

References

Always open first panel: 

Author

Ryan Carroll, Senior Environmental Health Officer, Housing, Environment and Renewal, Calderdale Council.

December 2015.