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Air Quality Monitoring Spring 2016

Latest results underline concerns.

The Greenwich Society and East Greenwich Residents Association combined to assess air quality in both West and East Greenwich in April/May. Air diffusion tubes that measure nitrogen dioxide levels were installed at 22 locations, 6 in West and 16 in East Greenwich. The installation complied with DEFRA guidelines and the tubes were sent to an accredited laboratory in Didcot for analysis. The laboratory has had to cope with an unprecedented demand this year as local councils step up their air quality monitoring. It took over a month for the results to be available.

Those results (see image above) make sorry, but predictable, reading. They are consistent with our previous two surveys. The air along all our main roads breaches legal limits for nitrogen dioxide. The limit is 40 milligrams per cubic metre of air. It is a level at which infraction fines may be imposed, although the recent referendum taking us out of the European Union may call that into question. At a recent Council Meeting our Chair, Dan Hayes, asked a question whether those fines may be imposed on Greenwich council taxpayers. The answer by the Deputy Leader Cllr. Danny Thorpe was that “Fines would be due if a borough caused or contributed to the infraction”.

New developments must not add to pollution

The limit is, more importantly, a level above which there is a presumption that any action or development should not cause additional pollution. Developments should be “air quality neutral” to use the jargon. We must continue to press the Council not to permit developments that may add to pollution.

We all use those main roads as pedestrians, cyclists or drivers. Don’t imagine you are protected in a car. Tests have shown that pollution inside is the same as outside. It is however better to live away from those main roads. But unless you live in a salubrious street like Gloucester Circus, or perhaps very near the Park, levels are still “Elevated”. Most of the quieter streets tested fall into that category. An interesting result is that at the Greenwich Centre on the 5th floor. It may seem that living in a high rise may be another escape from exposure to bad air. But don’t come down to ground level, since the air there is at illegal levels.

Schools are a particular concern

This time we concentrated on schools under an initiative led

by Cam Miller and Ilsa Pole. Under their leadership EGRA has held several meetings with local schools and awareness is running high. The survey found that air quality is poor even in the school playgrounds of Halstow and the Forum crèche.

It is also poor near the schools on Comerell Street and the Meridian Primary School. In West Greenwich it is bad outside St Alfege on Creek Road. Although awareness of our poor air quality has grown greatly in the last year or so, no real action has yet been taken. Air pollution is held to be responsible for nearly 10,000 early deaths a year in London. The survey in Greenwich only sampled nitrogen dioxide which is just one ingredient of the cocktail that causes death and ill health. It especially affects children; hence the schools focus.

So, what can be done?

First, it seems reasonable to question any new development that may add to the already high levels of pollution in Greenwich. Second, national and regional government should address principle causes of city pollution, starting with diesel vehicles, including the bus and taxi fleet. Local mitigation measures may be helpful though limited. The Borough has proposed a Low Emission Neighbourhood (LEN) along Trafalgar Road. Some of the proposals in that are based on EGRA’s Air Quality Manifesto. We welcome the LEN proposal and hope to be involved in it if it secures support from Transport for London. Furthermore the new Mayor is toying with an ultra low emission zone within the circular roads, north and south. We should support this.

Some of these actions may cost public money which is in short supply. We could start however with remembering the old clean air acts of 1956 and 1968 through which the UK pioneered improved air quality. Those acts did not impose undue public costs but led people to pollute less. The demise of the open hearth in the 1960s and 1970s should now be followed by the retirement of old-fashioned forms of transport that ruin our environment. That’s a big step; we could begin with some small steps, but very soon.

Too many people are either dying or being made ill because of air pollution; and our young suffer disproportionately.

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