OxAir to explore daily exposure to air pollution in Oxford

Published: Thursday, 20th June 2019

Oxford City Council has launched a new joint partnership with research group OxAir to gain a greater insight in to residents’ daily exposure to air pollution, and how best it can be managed.

The partnership project will combine data from portable, reliable, low cost air quality sensors with residents’ experiences to gain a greater understanding of when, why, where, and how they are exposed to air pollution. The project also aims to provide evidence to support behaviours/measures that can be taken to reduce exposure.

The air quality sensors will measure human exposure by different modes of transport (walking, cycling, bus and car) to capture peak times for pollution, in addition, sensors will be located at fixed locations across Oxford, with the intention of capturing data based on how people move and live in the city.

Sensors will also be deployed at schools across Oxford to monitor air quality at the school gates during drop off/pick up times.

OxAir is looking for 8-10 local residents and local business employees to participate in the project over the next 6 months.  The group will meet 3 - 4 times over the course of 6 months and will aims to generate new knowledge about how air quality is understood, measured and communicated. Visit www.oxair.org/getinvolved to find out how to take part.

Oxford City Council has secured £128,500 Government funding from The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to support the project.

Core project partners include; Oxford City Council, Empathy Sustainability, Ricardo Energy & Environment, Apertum, and Oxford University. However, the project will be working with other organisations across the city including Oxfordshire County Council, Low Carbon Oxford North, Oxford Bus Company, Pedal & Post, schools across Oxford, and others.

The City Council currently monitors air quality at 72 sites across Oxford. Three sites use continuous monitoring stations, which produce live data, and the others use diffusion tubes, which produce annual averages.

The European Union requires national governments to keep an annual average NO2  level of 40µg/m3 for towns and cities. However, the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants warn that there is no safe level of nitrogen dioxide.

New figures (European Heart Journal, March 2019) have suggested that in the UK, emissions were responsible for around 64,000 deaths, just 18 per cent less than the 78,000 deaths caused by tobacco.

New data from the Oxford City Council’s 72 air pollution monitoring locations has shown that levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) fell by an average of 0.23% between 2017 and 2018 –a starkly slower rate in comparison to the 22.7% decrease between 2016 and 2017.  It is thought that another steep decline in air pollution may not occur without a further upgrade in the city’s vehicles to cleaner technology. However, future data will be needed to understand whether the plateauing is a trend.

In January, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council published updated Zero Emission Zone proposals for Oxford City centre, following 15 months of consultation.

The ZEZ aims to tackle Oxford’s air pollution and protect the health of everyone who lives in, works in and visits the city. It is also expected that the ZEZ will improve air pollution levels across Oxfordshire because the buses and taxis that serve Oxford and are impacted by the zone, also serve towns and villages across the county.

Last Clean Air Day, the City Council launched an anti-idling campaign, Oxford Air Needs Your Care, with Oxford Friends of the Earth, encouraging parents not to leave their vehicle engines running outside of the school gate. The campaign saw schoolchildren surveying idling engines at the school gate and learning about the health impact of air pollution.

For Clean Air Day 2019, students from Windmill Primary School in Headington will meet at Bonn Square to walk around the city centre handing out leaflets, banners and posters about anti-idling and air pollution to members of the public. The campaign is linked to the City Council’s Schools Tackling Oxfords Air Pollution (STOP) Project, a project delivered to primary and secondary schools in Oxford, with the aim of raising awareness of the main sources and health effects of air pollution emissions.

Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for a Zero Carbon Oxford, said: “There is no safe level of air pollution, so we’re aiming for the legal level but also beyond. However, we’re only going to get to this lowest possible level of pollution if we have the best possible picture of the state of the city. OxAir will give us that picture—it will lead us to measures that give everyone the highest quality and quantity of life. The health of the city’s children is a particular priority for us—we’re going to monitor air quality at places such as our school gates, so we can figure out just how much effort we need to put into encouraging parents to ditch the car for the school run. Dirty air is making people sick, yet simple changes, made possible by clear information, can stop you breathing in harmful air.”

Jake Backus, Managing Director, Empathy Sustainability Ltd, said: "Air quality legislation is based on averages.  However, this does not mimic human exposure, which typically is at the peaks. The OxAir project is designed to get human level data to support and accelerate actions and strategies for pollution reduction, behaviour change and the humanisation of our cities." 

To find out more about the project, and how to get involved, go to www.oxair.org