Air quality and public health

Whilst it is important that we comply with the government’s rules on Clean Air Zones, the main aim behind the action is to improve health.

Our understanding of the effect that poor air quality has on human health is becoming increasingly clear. There are strong relationships between fine particulate concentrations (known as PM2.5) and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, such as strokes and heart disease, and high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are known to cause health effects including lung problems, sensitivity to allergens and can trigger asthma. In 2016, the Royal College of Physicians released a study which estimated the UK’s annual mortality burden from exposure to outdoor air pollution to be equivalent to around 40,000 deaths. In other words, the number of deaths that air pollution contributed to.

Derby City Council has declared two Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) for NO2 based on measured concentrations exceeding the national objective, covering the inner and outer ring roads, and the A52 around Spondon, principally due to emissions from road transport.

We are all affected because we breathe in the air around us, however some people are more susceptible than others to the issues of air quality. Air pollution particularly affects the most vulnerable in society: children and older people, and those with heart and lung conditions. There is also often a strong relationship with poor air quality affecting lower average household income areas.

Lots of things affect the quality of the air, however the main activity that causes locally high levels of air pollution is the use of motor vehicles – particularly those with diesel engines. In addition to NO2 there is also an issue with fine particulate matter in the air, known as PM2.5 (technically referred to as airborne particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5μm or less). PM2.5 is an issue because the tiny particles can enter your lungs and are even small enough to get into your blood. It is expected that measures designed to tackle NO2 would also help to reduce fine particulate (PM2.5) levels. 

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