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Importance of air quality

Definition of air quality

Air quality refers to the condition of the air around us, how clean it is and how many pollutants (harmful chemicals or substances) it contains. 

The more pollutants the air contains the more air pollution there is and the worse the air quality is.

For a summary on air quality and the measures you can take to reduce pollution read our air quality guide.

Sources of air pollution

There are many sources of air pollution and these have changed over time. One of the main sources of pollution in Islington at the moment is traffic.

The main pollutants that we focus on in the UK are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10). 

Others include ozone, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, benzene, lead, 1,3-Butadiene and ammonia.

 Pollutant Impact Sources
 Particulate matter Very small particles that can be taken deep into the lungs and can then pass directly into the bloodstream causing a range of health problems.
  • Transport (especially urban areas), including exhaust emissions, brake and road surface wear
  • Heating
  • Construction
  • Agriculture
  • Industry
 Nitrogen dioxide Inflames the airways and impacts lung function and breathing.
  • Transport (especially diesel vehicles)
  • Power generation
  • Industrial processes
  • Heating (domestic and commercial).

The need to improve air quality

Air pollution damages plants and animals but also human health. It is estimated that around 9,400 people die prematurely in London every year due to air pollution. Everyone is impacted by air pollution but particularly the young, elderly or those with existing health conditions.

In periods of high pollution some people with existing heart and respiratory conditions such as asthma may find their condition is exacerbated. At very high levels otherwise healthy individuals may find they get a sore or dry throat, sore eyes or a tickly cough.

The long term effects of air pollution on health are now thought to be much greater than the short term impacts and evidence of a much wider range of health impacts continues to grow. 

Air pollution:

  • increases the risk of many respiratory and cardiovascular diseases as well as the risk of death from these diseases
  • reduces the lung development of children
  • is also increasingly being linked to a range of other conditions like bladder cancer, diabetes, dementia and birth defects.

Air quality is improving but needs to be improved even further so we can make pollution levels as low as possible to lessen its impact on health.

Things you can do

We are working hard to improve air quality and lower pollution in Islington but you can also take action.

Reduce your exposure to air pollution by:

  • walking or cycling - drivers are actually exposed to the most pollution. If you walk or cycle not only are you producing less pollution but you are less exposed to pollution and get the additional health benefits of exercising
  • using quieter streets with less vehicle traffic
  • walking on the inside of the pavement
  • avoiding travelling at rush hour if possible
  • closing windows during rush hour if you live on a busy street, but ensure your rooms are well ventilated
  • planting vegetation that is good at reducing air pollution
  • signing up for airTEXT and get warnings of high pollution by phone, text or email

Reduce the amount of air pollution you produce by walking and cycling where possible, or take public transport for longer journeys.

If you do need to drive:

  • Car share
  • Make one longer trip rather than lots of little ones where your engine will stay cold and not burn as efficiently
  • Drive smoothly, accelerating and decelerating gently
  • Turn off your engine if you are parked up for more than one minute
  • Regularly service your car and make sure your tyre pressure is correct
  • Use air conditioning sparingly

Car clubs are great alternatives to owning your own car.

When buying a new car look for the least polluting vehicle and consider a vehicle that uses low emission fuel such as an electric or hybrid vehicle.

Reduce your energy use at home. When gas is burned it creates pollution and the fossil fuels that are burnt to produce much of our electricity also produce pollution.

Make sure you service your boiler to ensure it is running as cleanly and efficiently as possible.

If you have a wood burner or open fire ensure you follow the rules for Smoke Control Areas and only use the fire when necessary.

Compost and recycle garden waste where possible rather than using a bonfire and never burn household waste.

You can also:

  • spread the word and raise awareness of air pollution, its impacts and ways to reduce exposure and emissions. Speak to family, friends, colleagues etc.
  • volunteer to be part of our anti-idling campaign, which is running across London, including in Islington.

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