Air pollution - Frequently Asked Questions

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is a mixture of particles and gases in the air that can affect our health. There are lots of different pollutants, but the main ones are nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and particulates (PM2.5 and PM10).

Road transport is the biggest source of NO2 but industry, agriculture and burning wood and coal also contribute to pollution. As well as traffic, sources of particulate matter include industry, agriculture and smoke from bonfires, open fires and wood burning stoves.

Air pollution is affected by a lot of things including the time of year (pollution is normally higher in the winter), the weather and even the time of day. Generally speaking, pollution is higher at peak commuting times.

How does air pollution affect my health?

Air pollution is made up of tiny particles and gases. When we breathe they travel down into our lungs. From here they move into our blood and can be transported to other organs like our heart and brain.

Air pollution has been linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and worsens breathing problems like asthma and COPD. Children, the elderly and people with existing heart and lung conditions are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.

What is 'polluted' air?

For the purposes of air quality management, we use health based national objectives, drawn up by the government, to compare the levels of air pollution to. Any areas where the pollutants exceed these levels are designated as Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA).

Will I get exposed to less pollution in my car than walking or cycling?

Many people think that they are not exposed to air pollution in their cars, in fact the opposite is true! Studies have shown that you are more likely to breath in air pollution when sitting in your car, than you would walking on the street.

Studies by Kings College London showed that car drivers were exposed to the highest levels of pollution when compared to those who cycle or walk, they are also missing out on the physical and mental health benefits of exercise.

Does what I do really make a difference?

Yes! Simple changes to your normal habits can add up to big changes, especially if we all do our bit. For example, idling your car engine for one minute can create up to 150 balloons worth of polluting emissions!

Where can I access air quality data?

Daily data can be found on the UK AIR website (external link), however please be aware that this is raw data that needs to be corrected before use.

At the end of the calendar year, all the gathered data is ratified and final air quality data is published on an annual basis in the Annual Status Report (external link).

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