Council considering air quality steps

South Gloucestershire Council must deal quickly with local air pollution that may be posing a threat to public health according to a local politician.

Following air quality monitoring between January 2007 and April 2008 three locations were found to exceed acceptable levels of nitrogen dioxide and these may now be designated as ‘air quality management areas’.

Councillor Pat Rooney, Labour group spokesperson on the environment, is urging the council to act quickly: “This is not a problem that they have suddenly discovered. It’s disappointing that no real action will be taken for so long.”

What is Nitrogen dioxide?

There are a number of nitrogen oxides, all of which are produced on combustion of fossil fuels. Not only do they aggravate asthmatic conditions, and react with oxygen in the air to form the irritant ozone, but they are also one of the key causal agents of acid rain. On reacting with atmospheric moisture, they acidify it, and this moisture, when it falls as rain inhibits the growth of plants, is damaging to freshwater and soil life, and is damaging to buildings.

Nitrogen oxides also contribute to photochemical smog. They irritate lungs, and increase susceptibility to viral infections. In Britain, 44% of NOx emissions come from road vehicles. More info on car emissions

Air pollution is getting worse

Air pollution at twenty-one sites across Scotland breaches European law – a fifty per cent increase since the end of 2007.

The sites have been designated Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and the must now be tackled by the local councils concerned. You can find out if your area is affected here

The main pollutants are nitrogen dioxide and particulates – the microscopic particles of soot that are emitted by diesel engines.

Why are diesel fumes bad for our health?

Half an hour of sniffing diesel fumes in a busy city street is enough to induce a “stress response” in the brain, according to scientists who measured volunteers. The response continued to increase even after they had stopped breathing the fumes.

There is speculation that the changes in the brain may trigger other body responses to diesel fumes, such as oxygen deprivation in the heart. Previous studies in rats have shown that minuscule soot particles can make their way directly to the brain via nerves in the nose.

A recent study on air pollution reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation speculates that small particles in air pollution may trigger blood clots and cause heart attacks and strokes.

It is believed that 4,000 deaths are caused by air pollution in Britain every year, with people with respiratory problems most at risk.

Car makers can now offer as an option a filter for diesel-engined cars that completely removes all trace of particulates form the exhaust. Bus companies continue to make progress in reducing the amount of particulate matter emitted by their vehicles.

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