Air Quality FAQs

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A list of frequently asked questions on air quality issues.

Questions

Answers

Q1. What does LAQM stand for?

A1. LAQM stands for Local Air Quality Management.

Q2. Why does Ipswich Borough Council monitor air quality across the Borough?

A2. The Environment Act 1995 places a duty on Local Authorities to review the air quality in their area. Local air quality is assessed at locations of relevant exposure such as residential properties, schools and care homes, and reviewed against National Air Quality Objectives.

Q3. What are the National Air Quality Objectives?

A3. The National Air Quality Strategy sets air quality objectives for England and Wales. The aim is to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy acceptable levels of air quality that meet these objectives. The main concerns within the Borough relate to the nitrogen dioxide annual air quality objective of 40μg/m3 (micrograms per metre cubed).

 Q4. What pollutants are assessed by Ipswich Borough Council?

A4. Ipswich Borough Council carries out an assessment for the following pollutants in accordance with the National Air Quality Strategy to ensure the standards and objectives will be met. These are:

  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
  • Particulates (PM2.5 and PM10)

Q5. Where does nitrogen dioxide come from?

A5. The burning of coal, natural gases and fuel produces oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions, mainly in the form of Nitrogen Oxide (NO). Chemical reactions then occur in the atmosphere with the NO, which produce nitrogen dioxide. The main source of NOx emissions is road vehicles. Older and larger cars will produce higher levels of NOx.

Q6. Where do particulates come from?

A6. Sources of particulate air pollution can come from a range of sources, including road transport and domestic burning but it can also come from environmental sources such as forest fires and ocean spray. Atmospheric conditions can also cause pollution to travel long distances so some of the levels of particulate pollution within the Borough may not be attributable to sources within the town. It will be important for this to be addressed on a national level, nonetheless, the Council aspires to reduce levels of air pollution to as low as practicable.

Q7. How are the pollutants monitored?

A7. The Council monitors levels of Nitrogen Dioxide using a network of over 90 monitoring sites. This is made up of two automatic sites (which measure air pollution continuously using real-time continuous analysers) and diffusion tubes (which are less sophisticated and give a monthly average pollution level after being analysed at a laboratory). The Council has previously used dispersion modelling for particulates.

Q8. Why do you not currently monitor for particulates?

A8. Recent air quality screening carried out on behalf of the Council indicates that we were below legal values set my central government for particulates.

Q9. What if the objectives are not met?

A9. If it is determined that any of the Air Quality Objectives are not being or are unlikely to be met, the local authority has a duty to declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), to carry out an assessment and then develop an Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) by working with other relevant stakeholders such as Suffolk County Council. The aim of the AQAP is to reduce the pollutant concentration(s) in pursuit of the Air Quality Objective(s). The Council must also annually report to DEFRA on progress with a current AQAP via Annual Status Reports (ASR’s).

Q10. Does Ipswich have any Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs)? If so, where are they located?

A10. Yes, Ipswich has 5 AQMAs. Their locations are detailed in our current Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) and current Annual Status Report (ASR) available here. Defra have approved the Council’s current AQAP and latest ASR.

Q11. Is Ipswich the only place to have an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA)?

A11. No. Across the UK, there are over 500 AQMAs declared by more than 250 councils. The vast majority of these are for potential exceedances of the annual mean nitrogen dioxide national air quality objective, as a result of emissions from road traffic sources.

Q12. What are the health effects associated with high NO2 levels?

A12. Nitrogen dioxide can have both long and short-term health effects. Short-term effects include irritation of the eyes and throat and can lead to the increase of symptoms of respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. The long-term health effects will increase the susceptibility to respiratory conditions among healthy individuals, and lead to gradual deterioration in health of people already suffering from respiratory problems, particularly elderly people.

Q13. Are there safe levels of exposure to particulate air pollution?

A13. The World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates there is no safe level for exposure to particulates. The Government will need to determine whether they will require councils to meet WHO’s guidelines or possibly an even stricter target.

Q14. Does the Council meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for PM2.5?

A14. A recent report produced by the British Heart Foundation indicated that 75 councils across the UK exceeded the WHO average for PM2.5 in 2018 based on Defra estimates. Ipswich was one of these councils, with an estimate of around 10.83 µg/m3, whereas the WHO guideline is 10 µg/m3. The current Government objective limit for PM2.5 is 25 µg/m3 which Ipswich is within.

Q15. I suffer from asthma. How will air pollution affect me?

A15. People already susceptible to respiratory illness could feel the effects more acutely or at lower levels of pollution. Those with heart disease, asthma and bronchitis, especially young and elderly people, should try to avoid prolonged exposure to busy traffic and keep road-facing windows closed during peak hours if possible.

Q16. I have seen the statistic that 63 people in Ipswich die every year due to air pollution, is this true?

A16. Air pollution and deaths is a complex issue. The fact that air pollution is bad for health is not disputed. Attributing cause and effect with certainty is more problematic. Exposure, the mix of pollutants and the susceptibility of individuals all plays a part.

The death estimates for the UK, and inferred for Ipswich, is the outcome of a statistical exercise to estimate the number of lives prematurely ended (life years lost) through exposure to PM and NO2. The calculations from the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) and others is one of “life years lost” through exposure – from which an estimate of deaths is then produced.  Death certificates do not say that air pollution is the cause but air pollution contributes to the bringing forward of deaths through worsening heath by a variety of mechanisms.

Q17. Will an AQMA affect the value of my property?

A17. Designation of AQMAs is a legislative requirement and not an optional process. Other councils have declared AQMAs and to the best of our knowledge there have been no reported effects on property values. However, if you live within one of the AQMAs and wish to sell your property this information may be declared if an environmental search is carried out.

Q18. Do I have to declare an AQMA against my property on the Land Registry?

A18. No, but the Council has to make the information available to the public and it is placed on a national website by Defra. We publish all our local air quality information locally here.

Q19. Do the AQMAs stay in place forever?

A19. No, the Council will continue to monitor the levels of NO2 across the town and within each AQMA, and should the annual average levels fall below the national objective within an AQMA it can be revoked.

Q20. What is the Council doing about air pollution?

A20. The Council has produced an Air Quality Action Plan and is involved in implementing the numerous measures within the plan to tackle air quality and reduce levels of pollution. We are working in partnership with Public Health, Suffolk County Council and the other Suffolk councils to ensure these measures are prioritised and actioned.

The Council has been taking positive action towards reducing pollution levels in the town which has included:

  • Investing in a low emission fleet
  • Investing in electric vehicle charging points in our car parks
  • Jointly developing an anti-idling campaign with other Councils across Suffolk. Details of the Suffolk Idling Action Campaign and accompanying materials can be found here.
  • Participating in annual Clean Air Events. In 2019, the Council visited seven primary schools around Ipswich to educate pupils about the effects and sources of air pollution. Six of those schools took part in a ‘Clean Air Challenge’ where if a pupil walked to school all five days in a set week they would get a free 10 day iCard pass to use in our sports centres. We issued 1,124 iCard passes to children from six schools. We also worked in partnership with two schools to tackle idling outside the school gates.
  • The Council believes schools and colleges can play an important role in educating our children and young people about air pollution. If interested schools would like an air quality officer to visit, they can contact environmental.health@ipswich.gov.uk for this to be arranged.
  • We are currently drafting an air quality planning document to ensure that future development in the town does not impact on air quality.
  • Work is also under way in partnership with neighbouring Suffolk councils to progress a campaign aimed at educating the public to the impacts of domestic burning.

Q21. How long will it take to solve the pollution problem? Does Brexit change things?

A21. Levels of some air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, are not falling as quickly as expected. It might take a number of years to meet the national objectives in some AQMA areas. The Government has a responsibility to meet limits set by the European Union. The Air Quality Directive, which set out these EU limits, has been transposed by UK law with the same limit values applying. The Government says it is committed to making the air cleaner regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations.

We will keep trying to reduce air pollution within the Air Quality Management Area and across the town to achieve air quality objectives and limits in the future. This is likely to take a number of years.

Q22. Where can I find your latest reports on air quality?

A22. The current Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) and latest Annual Status Report (ASR) are available here. Defra have approved the Council’s current AQAP and latest ASR. Historic reports can be found here too.

Q23. Where do we carry out monitoring?

A23. We mostly monitor alongside busy roads, or on narrow congested streets, where air pollution is likely to be worse. We also monitor at several 'background' locations, away from busy roads. Current monitoring locations are detailed in our latest Annual Status Report (ASR) are available here.

Q24. Why does the latest Annual Status Report (ASR) not show up to date monthly nitrogen dioxide results/this year’s pollution results?

A24. In order to accurately work out what average levels of nitrogen dioxide are in the Borough, the Council has to firstly gather a whole year’s worth of diffusion tube readings, taken monthly, running from January through to December. Furthermore, before we can analyse the data obtained from a previous year, we require the latest data analysis tools provided by Defra. Typically, these tools are not available until the spring. These issues mean that we can never provide monthly up to date readings.

By the end of June every year the Council must submit an ASR to Defra which reports on our air quality monitoring data from the previous year. Once Defra have examined this report, we will publish it here. The publication of an ASR typically occurs around July every year.

Q25. Why don’t you monitor near me?

A25. Over the years, we have monitored in areas of the district where we felt there was potential for levels of NO2 to be above a national objective. There have been a number of other sites where equipment has been in place but were subsequently removed as levels were not found to be high enough to warrant further monitoring. We review our monitoring locations annually and the Annual Status Report we submit to Defra ensures we consider where pollution levels or relevant exposure may change. All historical data is available here.

Q26. Do you monitor for indoor air pollution in homes?

A26. While the Council has a responsibility to monitor levels of some key pollutants in the outdoor air we do not have equipment to monitor pollution inside homes. You can, however, purchase a carbon monoxide monitor in most home stores in the UK. This is used to test the level of carbon monoxide in the home if you are concerned that your boiler may not be working properly and is giving off fumes.

If you are worried that you have a serious problem with indoor air quality which has persisted over time you might want to consider contacting a commercial company which can carry out an assessment and suggest mitigation measures.

Q27. What is air pollution like in Ipswich today?

A27. Ipswich has two real-time continuous air quality analysers that provide up-to-date information on levels of nitrogen dioxide. Information recorded by these analysers can be found here. Please be aware that as concentrations of nitrogen dioxide typically fall off quickly from a pollution source (e.g. from an exhaust from a motor vehicle), levels recorded at these monitoring stations are unlikely to be representative of pollution levels across all areas of the town (e.g. in parks/open spaces, areas with less road traffic etc.).

The national air quality forecast can be found on DEFRA’s UK Air.

Q28. How is the air quality in Ipswich generally?

A28. The majority of Ipswich generally experiences air quality that meets National Objective Levels. However, in some areas close to busy roads, air quality does not meet the nitrogen dioxide annual mean national air quality objective level. Emissions from vehicles are the main cause of these raised nitrogen dioxide levels.

Q29. I walk and cycle around the town, am I more at risk of being exposed to poor air pollution?

A29. As well as being better for your health and fitness, evidence shows that cyclists and pedestrians are also less exposed to air pollution than people in vehicles. This is because some pollution from exhaust gases can pass straight through a vehicles air filter and then an accumulate inside. If possible, you can further reduce your exposure by walking and cycling on less busy roads.

Q30. I saw a bus emitting excessive amounts of black smoke, can I report it?

A30. Excessively smoky buses and lorries can be reported online to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA)

 The information required to report a smoky vehicle online is:

  • Type of vehicle (HGV or Passenger Service Vehicle)
  • Vehicle registration number
  • Company name of vehicle (if known)
  • Location the vehicle was seen
  • Date and time of sighting

Q31. Does planting hedges and trees help to improve air quality?

A31.This is a common suggestion but unfortunately the answer is complicated as evidence from research is mixed. Some certain species of tree such as elm, silver birch and yew have been shown to effectively absorb air pollution from particulate matter. However, some trees can also give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The location and type of vegetation can also impact on air quality. Research has shown that rows of trees with large canopies on urban streets can worsen air quality by preventing pollution from dispersing. In other cases, dense hedging can be used as a barrier to protect people from pollution by inhibiting dispersion from nearby roads.  

Q32. How can I reduce my exposure to air pollution?

A32.

  • Take steps to reduce your contribution to air pollution - Find out more at ‘What can I do to help improve air quality?’ 
  • Avoid travelling on busy and congested roads, if possible - These are pollution hotspots.
  • Avoid travelling during rush hour, if possible -Typically, when traffic is busiest, roadside air pollution will be at its worst.
  • Stop Idling! - It’s better to turn off your engine if you think that your vehicle will be stationary for around two minutes or longer.
  • Choose to walk alongside the least polluted side of the road - Pollution levels can change over very short distances. On a normal road, the side of the road with less traffic will typically be less polluted. On a hill, the uphill side of the road will typically be much more polluted as engines must work harder to drive uphill.
  • Try and avoid exercising close to sources of pollution such as busy roads – In most healthy individuals, the beneficial effects of exercise will outweigh the negative effects of air pollution and smoke. However, if possible try and avoid exercising near sources of pollution. If you exercise outside, consider exercising in a park away from pollution.
  • If you have an open fire or wood-burning stove, take steps to mitigate against the pollution – consider burning less, only burn clean dry wood or buy ‘ready to burn fuel’, regularly maintain and service your appliance and get your chimney swept.
  • If you live on a busy road, keep your windows facing the road closed at busy times – this should help stop pollution entering your home.

 Q33. What can I do to help improve air quality?

A33. Improving air quality is vital for the health and wellbeing of the people of Ipswich. There are many things that you can do to improve air quality a reduce your exposure to air pollution. Making small changes in the home or how we travel on a regular basis can help reduce how much pollution we produce and how much pollution we breathe in, and the resulting improvements in air quality, can help avoid health related issues in the future. The following are some important actions everyone can take to help make a difference when travelling around town or within the home:

  • Walk, cycle or scoot instead of driving, particularly for those short journeys across town. Sitting in a car in traffic can expose you to more pollution than walking or cycling. Look for routes away from busy roads, perhaps taking in one of Ipswich’s parks. A map showing cycle routes across Ipswich is available on the Green Suffolk website
  • When driving, switch off your engine when you are stationary and drive smoothly to avoid sudden breaking or accelerating. This will be more fuel efficient, reduce wear on your brakes and reduce the pollution you produce.
  • Avoid unnecessary burning within the home. The use of wood burning appliances or open fires can contribute to local air pollution. You should avoid using them as a heating source however, if you do rely on wood for your heating, use ‘ready to burn’ materials. Reduce the amount of energy needed in the home - insulate your home, turn appliances off when they are not in use, cook with lids on pots and service your boiler regularly.

Q34.  Do you consider air quality in the planning process?

A34. Yes – and particularly for larger sites. Air quality is a material planning consideration and larger development applications must be accompanied by an air quality assessment. Proposals for sites in or around AQMAs in Ipswich also have air quality assessments. Our officers consider these assessments and make recommendations accordingly.

When assessing planning applications in relation to their potential impact on the local air quality, Ipswich, amongst other Suffolk Local Authorities, refer to the most recent guidance from Environmental Protection UK (EPUK) and the institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM) to aid our assessments.

Q35. Are there any restrictions to when I can have a bonfire in my garden?

A35. Whilst there are no local byelaws or statutes that prohibit bonfires, the Council has a legal duty under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to investigate all complaints that could result in a Statutory Nuisance. Bonfires have the potential to be a statutory nuisance if they cause unreasonable interference with another person’s enjoyment of their property or pose a threat to the wider public health.

In general, the Council discourages garden bonfires as a means of disposing of waste. Smoke and odour from bonfires have long been a source of a significant number of complaints to local authorities every year. Smoke prevents your neighbours enjoying their garden, opening windows or putting their washing out. Depending on the atmospheric conditions, smoke may have the potential to have an impact further afield, such as affecting visibility and causing danger on the road.

Bonfires also cause air pollution. Burning garden waste produces smoke, especially if it is damp and smouldering rather than dry and blazing. Burning plastic, rubber or painted materials not only creates an unpleasant smell but also produces a range of poisonous compounds that can have damaging health effects to you and the local community.

If you are planning a bonfire, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid having a one altogether, or to reduce the likelihood of it causing a statutory nuisance:

  • Compost garden waste or use an alternative disposal service for green waste.
  • DO NOT burn any oily rags, rubber, plastics, damp garden waste or other materials that would create heavy smoke or toxic fumes
  • Avoid lighting a bonfire when your neighbours have washing out to dry, are outside enjoying their gardens, or have their windows open.
  • Advise your nearest neighbours before you light a bonfire so they can be prepared for any minor inconvenience that may arise.
  • Choose the time of day and weather conditions that will cause the least inconvenience to neighbours.
  • Never leave your fire to smoulder for long periods and do not allow a bonfire to continue burning beyond dusk.
  • Burn material quickly in small quantities in a hot fire so the minimum amount of smoke is created. Choose your bonfire site carefully, well away from trees, fences and windows.
  • Beware of attempting bonfires on very windy days as it can so easily get out of control.
  • Have a hose-pipe and buckets of water handy just in case
  • Never leave a fire unattended.

Q36. Where can I get more information?

A36. Below are links to some websites that provide further general information about air quality. If you have a specific query you can contact us via: environmental.health@ipswich.gov.uk.

Contact Details

Environmental Health,
Ipswich Borough Council,
3W Grafton House,
15-17 Russell Road,
Ipswich,
IP1 2DE

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01473 432000