How polluted is the air in Herefordshire?


The news seems to be mixed.....

Air pollution has been in the news in Herefordshire lately.  The Head Teacher of Lord Scudamore Academy was reported in the Hereford Times to be considering buying air purifiers.  He was responding to a report published by Greenpeace.  Greenpeace took UK government data on air pollution, mapped areas where pollution levels were above legal limits and then identified any nurseries near these hot spots. This was part of a programme to highlight concerns over air pollution and health.  Lord Scudamore Academy has a nursery and it was close to one of these hot spots.

Air quality is also one of the areas local people told us should improve if Herefordshire is to develop more sustainably.  We use data published by Herefordshire Council on levels of Nitrogen Dioxide to measure progress.  This indicator is currently showing GREEN, indicating that levels have been reducing over the short and long term.

Air pollution is a serious public health risk

According to this rather useful briefing note, all of us in the UK should be concerned about air pollution.

Small particles in the air harm the population causing the equivalent of 29,000 deaths per year in the UK.  In urban areas they come from traffic (exhaust, brakes, etc.) and industry, while in rural areas they come from agriculture.  Though around half of the small particles in the UK are blown here from outside the country.

Nitrogen dioxide also harms us causing the equivalent of 23,500 deaths per year. It results from burning things, typically burning fuel for transport where diesel is a particular problem.  Other pollutants like ozone and sulphur dioxide are also of concern.

These pollutants are directly harmful and they can also make other conditions worse.  In general it would be a good idea to reduce the levels as much as possible.  The government has also set upper limits.  If these are breached the Council has to designate an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA).

Herefordshire Council routinely monitors levels of nitrogen dioxide in different places in the county but not of other pollutants. Here's a map of those locations:

The AQMA's

In Herefordshire there are two spots where air pollution is high enough to create an Air Quality Management Area. These are:

  • Hereford - specifically the A49(T) corridor in Hereford, extending from Holmer Road in the north to Belmont Road in the south and extending east along Newmarket/ Blue School Street and west along Eign Street as far as Barton Yard.
  • Leominster - specifically around the junction between the A44 (Bargates) and B4361 (DishleyStreet/Cursneh Road) in Leominster.

In both cases the Council has drawn up and implemented a plan to reduce pollution.  In both places the pollution is associated with traffic. In both cases plans have focused on trying to reduce the number of vehicles driving into the city and move traffic through faster.

It was Lord Scudamore School's proximity to the Hereford hotspot that brought it into the Greenpeace report.

Is Herefordshire air cleaner than Worcestershire air?

We also have to ask whether it even makes sense to set an indicator for the level of air pollution in Herefordshire.  Air pollution does not respect county boundaries.  Central government has monitoring stations in Herefordshire (Leominster and Preston on Wye) but these are part of an infrastructure that is monitoring pollution across the country.  There is no attempt to assess how clean Herefordshire's air is compared to that in Worcestershire. The government reports on air quality levels and trends for the UK as a whole.

Tackling air pollution is always going to be a combination of local action (like trying to tackle traffic in Hereford), national action (like setting fuel emission standards for cars and trucks) and international action (like agreeing targets on emissions standards from power stations and heavy industry).

So our air quality indicator is pragmatic.  It's the only pollutant for which there is data available at Herefordshire level.  The fact that it is reducing is a good thing but the fact that the indicator is Green doesn't mean that there isn't much to do, at local and national level.