While we wait for the response to the air quality plan we produced as a result of our DEFRA direction, we can take some confidence that Leicester is now recording the lowest levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) ever recorded. However, we know more needs to be done to improve air quality across the board; not least in our understanding and management of levels of PM2.5.
Earlier this year we were awarded almost £250,000 from the government’s Air Quality Grant scheme to monitor, map and make the public more aware of PM2.5 and how it affects our city and our health.
There is currently no requirement to monitor PM2.5, but we have the skills and knowledge in Leicester to take a lead in better understanding this pollutant and its risk to health. We also know that the Environment Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech before the General Election includes provision to set a legally binding target – so it is in our interest to act now.
As Tim Smedley noted in his excellent book Clearing the Air – The beginning and the End of Air Pollution (Bloomsbury,2019) “comparing the PM2.5 levels in different cities is not always straightforward…The official monitoring stations are often too few in number.” Our project will look at innovative ways of gathering and communicating data. We hope that this will inform everything from policy decisions at city-scale, to behaviour change at an individual level. As a pilot project, we see the potential to develop a way of working that we can share with other cities, to make comparing more straightforward.
Local company, EarthSense, has recently been commissioned to provide expertise and technological solutions to fulfil the aims of the project, which will see eleven Zephyr® air quality sensors installed at strategic fixed locations across the city, on electric bikes and in electric cars.
The data collected will help build a clearer picture of where pollution originates and where in the city is most affected. We’ll be producing a high-resolution map showing Near Real Time air quality data which will show PM2.5 and other pollutants such as NO2. We’re also looking at innovative ways of making data available to residents to inform healthy choices.
Reducing roadside and other locally derived PM2.5 from sources such as wood burning stoves will result in local action, but transported pollution from outside of our constrained administrative boundary will require partnership and literally a ‘fair wind’ to reduce levels. We’re keen to use this opportunity to develop and share our learning with other cities and jurisdictions, so I look forward to discussing this exciting project more with UK100 local authorities as it develops.