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Air quality frequently asked questions

Find answers to your frequently asked questions about air quality in Islington

This information was all correct at time of publication (June 2020). However, things can change. If you feel something is out of date or incorrect, or would like an official up-to-date answer to something, please contact pollution@islington.gov.uk.

What is air quality?

Air quality refers to 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 air quality is. 

Poor air quality is a concern as air pollution can impact health. In periods of high pollution some people with existing heart and respiratory conditions, such as asthma, may find their condition gets worse. Over the long term air pollution:

  • can increase the risk of many respiratory and cardiovascular diseases
  • can reduce the lung development of children
  • is also increasingly being linked to a range of other health conditions

Emerging research shows a possible link between air pollution and respiratory conditions such as COPD and COVID-19. As pollution affects your lungs, those who are exposed to higher air pollution may be more likely to have complications if they contract COVID-19.

Air pollution in the UK has been improving over the last few decades, and is predicted to continue to do so. 

However, we currently exceed EU limits for one of the main pollutants, nitrogen dioxide, in parts of Islington (pollution is generally worse on main roads and in the south of the borough). While we meet limits for all other air pollutants, given the health impacts of air pollution, we are working hard to reduce all pollution as much as possible as quickly as possible. 

Actions taken to improve air quality can also help tackle climate change and vice versa. 

Islington has declared a climate emergency and is working to make Islington net zero in terms of carbon by 2030. It is therefore important to tackle both climate and air quality together to maximise improvements in both.

How do you measure pollution?

We monitor pollution across the borough using over 200 diffusion tubes (measuring NO2), seven AQ Mesh (measuring NO2 and PM10) and two larger automatic monitoring sites (measuring NO2 and PM10). One is on Holloway Road (a ‘roadside’ location) and one is in the Ecology Centre (a ‘background’ location). These sites are certified to monitor these pollutants, and as such are the most accurate monitors we have. The data from the automatic monitoring sites is analysed by King’s College London. It is collected every hour, checked by algorithms to make sure it looks sensible before it's pushed up to the London Air website. Each day there's a combination of automated and manual checks on the data and every 6 months the instruments are audited and serviced. After these audits, the data is ratified and compared to long term data from other automatic monitoring sites.

The data from our long term diffusion tubes and two automatic monitoring sites is released each year in our Annual Summary Report. You can find these on the Air Quality document page.

Diffusion tubes (also known as NOx tubes)

The 20 long term diffusion tubes are located in both roadside and background locations across the borough, and have been in place since 2000, giving us good long-term data. They record data in monthly average periods. Diffusion tube data is best used to show long-term changes as it shows us trends over time. They do not work so well at giving accurate data over short time periods as they only give us an average for the month. We cannot use/release monthly data as diffusion tubes need at least one year of data (which is then ratified nationally) before the numbers are scientifically accurate. Long term data from our diffusion tubes show a continual decline in NO2 pollution across the borough.

We have also placed diffusion tubes outside all schools in the borough during 2018 and 2019 and all nurseries as of the beginning of 2020. This will give us a rough idea of pollution levels outside schools however it will not show peaks and dips in pollution, for instance during pick up and drop off times when more cars are present. We will need at least one year of data before we can release the figures.

The rest of the NOx tubes are placed in areas where we have ongoing projects, to help us track any changes in pollution levels due to our work. Examples of this are the tubes around Archway and Old Streets gyratorys.

The data from the permanent diffusion tubes is released each year in our Annual Summary Report. You can find these on the Air Quality document page.

AQ Mesh monitors

We use these monitors to give us live data. This helps us to pick up specific times when pollution is high or low – unlike diffusion tubes that give us a monthly average. We use them to help us monitor pollution before, during and after some air quality projects and campaigns to record any changes in pollution levels.

These monitors are expensive to buy and maintain which is why we have seven compared to over 200 diffusion tubes. They are not certified to the same standard as the automatic monitoring sites and there is not a definite idea of their accuracy levels.

You can see interactive maps of pollution levels across London on the Mayor of London’s air quality page. These maps are based on modelling using specific points around the city to get data. You can also find information for each individual borough.

What actions are the Council taking to improve air quality?

Islington is working hard to improve air quality across the borough. We also work closely with neighbouring boroughs as air pollution doesn’t stop at borough borders.

You can find information about all the projects we are doing on our project page.

I have questions about idling

Idling is when a vehicle engine is on while the vehicle is stationary. If a vehicle is idling for more than one minute authorised officers can ask the driver to switch off the engine. If they refuse, they can be issued a £20 fine (doubled if not paid within 28 days). There are some exceptions where idling is allowed, for example if elderly people or very young children are in the car on a very cold day, a taxi is waiting on an official TfL taxi rank or the vehicle is powering or charging essential equipment. Police cars often have to idle as their on-board computers need to remain on. Many chilled and frozen food lorries have a second engine that remains on to keep food fresh. This can sound like the main engine is running.

The Council are lobbying central Government for higher fines for idling.

We are part of the pan-London Idling Action campaign that allows us to run training sessions and volunteer events throughout the year. These are mostly run in schools (more information in the Idling Action section) but also with the wider community in idling hotspots around the borough. For more information about when these events are happening, check the calendar and sign up to be a volunteer.

  • A vehicle is idling right now

We do not have capacity to respond to every idling vehicle and it is unlikely we will arrive in time to speak to the driver. If you feel able to approach the driver yourself you may find it helpful to have some information to hand, please see the Idling Action website for key facts on idling.

If you would like some of the Idling Action leaflets to give out to drivers, please contact pollution@islington.gov.uk who can post some out to you.

We always recommend safety first. Do not approach if you feel uncomfortable. Do not approach from the road side, always from the pavement. Walk away if you feel uncomfortable. Always approach in a friendly and calm manner as you will be more likely to receive that behaviour back.

  • There is an area where vehicles regularly idle

Help us locate idling hotspots by letting us know if there is an area where you regularly see vehicles idling. You can report it using the anti-social behaviour online reporting form or email pollution@islington.gov.uk with as much information as you can including exactly where and when vehicles are idling. This enables us to visit at the right time and talk to as many people as possible. We can also put up anti-idling stickers in the area.

  • I want to report an idling company/business vehicle

If you see a business vehicle idling please wait to see if it idles for more than one minute and have a look to see if the driver needs the engine on for work purposes i.e. is it powering or charging tools, including laptops.

To report an idling company/business vehicle please email pollution@islington.gov.uk with the following details:

Company name, number plate, time, date and location and if possible a photo of the vehicle.

We can contact businesses directly to speak to the driver in question and reinforce the anti-idling message in their company more generally. We also invite companies to take part in the free fleet training that will be happening in the summer/autumn of 2020 as part of the Idling Action project.

Tweeting the company with the photo and requesting them to ask their drivers to not switch off can encourage the company to take the issue more seriously. Do not tweet this information to the Council as it will not get to the Pollution team in time for us to tackle it.

  • I want to report an idling bus or black cab

 Buses and taxis are controlled by Transport for London (TfL) not the Council. Therefore you need to send your complaint directly to TfL to make the greatest impact.

You can report an idling bus to TfL using their online form.

You can report an idling black cab to TfL using their online form.

Make sure you get the number plate, time, date and location, plus any license number. Again, the vehicle must be idling for more than one minute.

  • I saw a private vehicle idling

 We cannot access the DVLA records to contact idling drivers in private cars. If you regularly see the same car idling in the same place at the same time, let us know through pollution@islington.gov.uk as we can arrange a visit to speak to them when we know they will be there.

  • I want to report an idling Council vehicle

We are training our drivers across the Council to not idle however, we know that it does happen. If you see a council vehicle idling please wait to see if it is idling for more than one minute and have a look to see if the driver needs the engine on for work purposes i.e. is it powering or charging tools, including laptops.

To report an idling council vehicle please email pollution@islington.gov.uk with the following details: the date, time and location, the number plate of the vehicle and any team name on the vehicle e.g. Housing and if possible a photo of the vehicle. We will contact the correct manager to ensure the driver is spoken to about the incident.

What is the Idling Action campaign?

As part of the pan-London Idling Action campaign, Islington has five school workshops and seven anti-idling events per financial year.

The Air Quality lesson and poster-making workshop builds on existing eco and active travel initiatives and are delivered in schools by Idling Action project officers.  They have created the lesson/workshop to arm students with the information they need to both reduce their exposure to, and escape the effects of air pollution.  The workshop will conclude with the co-creation of a banner to communicate idling action messages. These will be printed and displayed outside the school, if the school want this. The Idling Action workshops have been offered to all primary schools via email on a first come, first served basis. To ensure a school registers its interest and replies quickly, speak to the head teacher about the campaign and ask them to look out for the email. Head teachers can also email us directly to register their interest – pollution@islington.gov.uk

There is more information about the Idling Action campaign and how to get involved in the events on the Idling Action website.

The Idling Action anti-idling events are offered to schools as part of the package but not all schools take them. Any unused anti-idling events will be held as community events in hotspot areas.

The Pollution team also run anti-idling events as and when they are needed outside of this campaign. If you would like Pollution Officers to come to your school at pick up time and speak to idlers directly, contact pollution@islington.gov.uk. We can usually organise an event within a week and we do not need permission from the school as we do not enter the premises. We will hand out information about idling and air pollution in general and ask any idlers to switch off their engines. For more information, email pollution@islington.gov.uk.

I have an issue with buses/bus stops

If you have an issue with buses, whether it is idling, placement of bus stops or routes, you will need to speak to TfL directly. This TfL reporting form deals with all bus issues. The Council does not have any control over TfL buses.

I want to know more about School Streets

Children living in London travelling to primary schools across the capital are five times more exposed to air pollution than at any other time of the day, as a study by Kings College London found (October 2019).

School Streets is an important scheme that closes the roads directly outside primary schools during pick up and drop off time. It is designed to create a safer and healthier area outside our schools, reducing traffic accidents and pollution.

Schools are selected on a range of factors including air pollution levels, traffic safety, school interest and viability.

You can see a list of schools that currently have a School Street and schools that are consultation for one on our website.

This scheme is run by Public Realm. If you would like any information about what it is, whether your school is next on the list or anything else to do with School Streets, email publicrealm@islington.gov.uk.

How do we get yellow zig zags outside schools?

If your school does not have yellow zig zags on the road outside to prevent parking and you feel it should, please contact publicrealm@islington.gov.uk and ask if they can look into this for you.

I want to know more about the school audits

We are carrying out air quality audits in all state primary schools across the borough between 2019 – 2022. These audits look at each school individually to identify the sources of pollution and highlight a combination of measures and solutions to help protect pupils’ health from poor air quality and examine ways to lower emissions.

As each school is different (age of building, location, type of boiler, ventilation, cleaning products used etc), there is no one-size fits all plan to help all schools. The audits help schools to focus on the areas and measures that are needed to improve air quality in and around the school. These measures range from short term, low cost measures that can be delivered by the school to long term, high cost measures that will require the support of the Borough and TfL. 

Our funding allows us to have one dedicated officer who will work with all the schools individually and produce a report setting out the recommendations.

How are the schools chosen?

We began working with schools that have expressed an interest in working with the Council to improve air quality.  Let your headteacher know that you are interested in having an audit to ensure that they reply to our officer and arrange for the audit to take place.

What if my school does not reply or does not want an audit?

The audits are a free service from the Council. Schools are not required to accept them, nor to act on any recommendations. To ensure your school takes part, speak to your headteacher and let them know you want the audit to happen. You may wish to raise this with your PTA committee or find likeminded parents to support your request.

What actions can I take at my school?

We have worked with Islington Clean Air Parents to create a toolkit for what you can do at your school to improve air quality. Please email pollution@islington.gov.uk to request this information.

I have a question about cycling routes, bike parking, cycle training or Dr Bike

For all information about cycling and bikes in Islington, please get in touch with the Cycle Team.

Further information

If you have not found your answer here, please get in touch with us at pollution@islington.gov.uk.

You can also visit the Government's air pollution webpages.

We have worked in collaboration with Islington Clean Air Parents to produce this information.

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