Monitoring air quality helps us understand the quality of the air we are breathing but should we rely on the government figures?
Traditionally, monitoring takes place at air quality stations in areas that are selected for accessibility rather than for high pollution levels. Often this results in data that doesn’t actually represent the air pollution levels people face in their day to day lives.
These monitoring stations use the Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI) to inform people of the short-term outdoor air pollution levels. The readings are divided into four bands - low, moderate, high and very high. Whilst the index is clear to read, DEFRA reports have different regularity for different pollutions. For example, NO2 is the mean number read on an hourly basis, yet the PM2.5 figure is the mean over a 24-hour period. This means that low traffic from 11pm and 6am will skew the results over a 24 hour period!
Factor this with the knowledge that the nearest station to you could be miles away. If air pollution can be up to 8 times worse on a street with busy traffic, how can we rely on the monitor readings from a station in a school playground, in the middle of a residential area (North Kensington)?
The solution is ‘hyperlocal’ air monitoring!
Sensor-based monitoring devices make hyperlocal air monitoring possible. While it won’t be as precise as the large, expensive government monitors, it will give reasonably accurate data of the air outside your door - in real-time.
A number of companies sell affordable air quality monitors (AQM) and you can even purchase the component parts to build your own. However, for it to gain traction and provide a map of real-time data, it needs to be affordable to households.
Why isn’t the government doing this?
Because the UK current ‘safe pollution levels’ are DOUBLE the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) recommended safe levels. Worse still, is that the W.H.O. guidelines haven’t been updated in 16 years and since then, there have been 170,000+ new studies. It is now recognised that the known effects of air pollution were vastly underestimated! Until the UK sets real targets for air quality and puts budgets and strategies in place to achieve this, we can’t rely on the government to do this.
Rather shockingly, London’s daily air quality levels exceeded the W.H.O. annual limit on 61% of days from June of 2020 to June of 2021 – which includes lockdowns 2 and 3!