Frequently Asked Questions
What is air pollution?
Air pollution is the presence of harmful gases and tiny particles. In occurs both indoors and outdoors, mostly from traffic (particularly diesel cars, lorries and buses), power generation and central heating systems. Currently, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates (PM2.5 and PM10) are the most cause for concern. Historically, we had to deal with sulphur dioxide (SO2) with creates pea soup fog; this has been largely addressed by strict air quality regulations. However, we now face the risk caused by invisible pollution.
What is the problem with air pollution?
Air pollution has been linked to a number of serious health conditions, including cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia. Every year, an estimated 40,000 deaths are attributable to air pollution in the UK. The indirect costs on the NHS is staggering. MPs have called the situation a “public health emergency“.
Crime has also been linked to air pollution, although the exact mechanism remains unclear. Air pollution is thought to more strongly affect children and the elderly.
What is #LetPompeyBreathe?
#LetPompeyBreathe is a joint initiative involving Portsmouth Green Party, Portsmouth Friends of The Earth, Milton Neighbourhood Forum, Keep Milton Green, Portsmouth Greenpeace, Greens in the European Parliament and other groups concerned with the dangerous state of Portsmouth’s Air Quality. See our About Us page.
What is being done Already?
Regulations have been put in place to address the problem. Among the most significant is the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 which implements EU directive 2008 Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC). This specifies legally binding limits on the UK government for NO2 and particulate pollution. The trouble is government bodies often ignore their responsibilities with 278 of the 391 local authorities missed the legal targets in 2017. Three successive High Court victories have been won by ClientEarth over the UK government, with the government’s plans being found to be inadequate.
Responsibility has largely been given to local government, which have taken some steps to deal with it but far stronger measures need to be taken. The government has been in breach of the law since at least 2010. Part of the ClientEarth ruling found that central government does not have a sufficient enforcement for local authorities to meet these legal limits. Being underfunded, local government is having difficulty in taking suitable measures. Also, in many councils, the political will to address the problem is lacking. Portsmouth City Council has until 31st Oct 2019 to produce a plan to reduce pollution as quickly as possible.
What more needs to be done?
Political pressure needs to be applied to encourage action at all levels of government. Contacting your elected representatives: people power can make a difference. Vote for politicians that will make a difference. Comment on planning applications that increase density without taking steps for dealing with the additional pollution.
We need to improve walking and cycling routes, as well as making the urban environment safer and more pleasant. This will help transition people to use sustainable means of transport.
Public transport should be improved to make it easier, integrated, cheaper and cleaner.
The need for car usage should be greatly reduced by careful planning and changing how developments are approved. We are not being helped by a council that is planning a major road capacity increase for the city centre!
MPs from different parties have been calling for a new Clean Air Act which will greatly strengthen monitoring and control of pollutants. We also need to shift the cost of pollution on to the polluter, particularly in egregious cases like Dieselgate and the car manufacturers.
Most large cities will require a charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ) to bring air pollution to within safe limits within a reasonable time. PCC is proposing a class B CAZ which will charge buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles and heavy goods vehicles (but not light goods vehicles or private cars). Environmental activists doubt this does far enough. In either case, businesses may need help to adapt to changes, as well as finding a sustainable way to move goods between the Isle of Wight and the mainland.
See also the strongly worded by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees.
Can pollution be avoided?
It is difficult to avoid air pollution completely for an individual person, apart from moving away from cities! However, you can reduce exposure by avoiding busy roads at peak times. Pollution is far worse inside vehicles than outside, so you can help yourself (while helping your community) by reducing car usage. Try to use public transport, cycling and walking instead, even if only for one day a week extra. Reducing physical activity is almost never a good idea (at least within the UK).
Indoor pollution is not well understood, but it is advisable to use an extractor fan when cooking (particularly when frying).
Is all of Portsmouth equally polluted or are some areas worse than others?
Pollution levels greatly vary around the city. Some particularly bad areas include the university area around Hampshire Terrace/Queens Street, the top of Commercial Road, the London Road/Fratton Road/Kingstone Road route and the Eastern Way as it reaches Milton Road. The residential areas of Southsea, Milton and Tipner have relatively better air quality.
Does the port make it worse?
The port does play a role in local air quality. One government report found that the Port accounted for less than 10% of the NO2 pollution in the area from the top of Commercial Road to the Rudmore Roundabout, which is very close to the port area.
What is Portsmouth’s air quality in relation to the rest of the country?
There are various types of pollution and multiple ways of quantifying levels, which makes it difficult to give a short answer to this.
For very fine particle PM2.5 pollution, we have a level of 12 ug/m3 in 2016, which is equal to Leicester, London and Nottingham. There are only a few worse locations nationally (at 13 ug/m3) such as Swansea, Storrington (West Sussex), Stanford-Le-Hope (Essex). The WHO recommended limit is 10 ug/m3.
For NO2, the worst reading in Portsmouth for 2016 is 49 ug/m3. The worst locations nationally were London (Lambeth, 134 ug/m3), Brighton and Hove (98 ug/m3), Bristol (97ug/m3). The legal limit is 40 ug/m3 (annual mean).
Many other countries have much higher pollution, particularly in large cities in India, Bhutan and Egypt.