Suffolk Air Quality Profile

The aim of the Suffolk Air Quality (AQ) Profile is to increase understanding of the public health impact of poor air quality on health in Suffolk and to act as a catalyst for further action.  This will be achieved by describing:  

  • the impact of poor air quality on the public’s health
  • identifying areas of concern within Suffolk
  • what can be done to mitigate the harmful impact of poor air quality

The following actions set out to strengthen the system and the County Council’s response to poor air quality:

  1. Providing training and resource to increase the technical knowledge of officers such as transport, spatial planners, elected members and wider partners on impact of air quality on health and the actions which can be taken to mitigate.
  2. Strengthening wider communication to the public on health impacts of air quality.
  3. Undertaking further research at local level on links between air quality and health in Suffolk.
  4. Mapping and sharing current interventions and good practice.
  5. Developing a County Council strategy to describe the levers Suffolk County have to positively impact on AQ and consider how to optimise.

Read the full document here

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Long-term exposure to air pollution can result in a reduction in life expectancy with estimates showing an average of seven to eight months and up to 50,000 people a year may die prematurely, mainly due to associated contributions to the development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer. Short-term exposure (over hours or days) to air pollution can also cause a range of health impacts, including lung function and complications with asthma. It is also linked to increases in respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions and deaths.

There is also often a strong correlation with inequalities, as areas with poor air quality are also often less affluent.

Therefore, it is not only important to improve air quality overall but also to improve population knowledge and data knowledge on the scale of the problem and the various measures that can be put in place to support the improvement of air quality across Suffolk.

Air pollutants are emitted from a range of both man-made and natural sources. Many everyday activities such as transport, industrial processes, farming, energy generation and domestic heating can have a detrimental effect on air quality. Two of the key pollutants are Particulate Matter (PM) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).

Air quality across most of Suffolk is reasonably good, however, there are areas where air pollutant concentrations are high and breach the Air Quality Objectives particularly in and around Ipswich.

Particulate Matter (PM) is a generic term used to describe a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles of varying size, shape, and composition. Some particles are emitted directly (primary PM), while others are formed in the atmosphere through complex chemical reactions (secondary PM). The composition of PM varies greatly and depends on many factors, such as geographical location, emission sources and weather.

The main sources of man-made PM are the combustion of fuels (by vehicles, industry and domestic properties) and other physical processes such as tyre and brake wear. Natural sources include wind-blown soil and dust, sea spray particles, and fires involving burning vegetation.

 

NO2 is a very localised gas that is produced along with nitric oxide (NO) by combustion processes. Together they are often referred to as oxides of nitrogen NO2.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) estimates that 80% of NO2 emissions in areas where the UK is exceeding NO2 limits are due to transport, with the largest source being emissions from diesel light duty vehicles (cars and vans). Other sources include power generation, industrial processes, and domestic heating.

As well as outdoor air pollution there are multiple sources of indoor air pollutants that can harm health. These include:

  • Carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulates from domestic appliances (boilers, heaters, fires, stoves and ovens), which burn carbon containing fuels (coal, coke, gas, kerosene and wood)
  • Volatile Organic Compounds from cleaning and personal care products, building materials and household consumer products (paints, carpets, laminate furniture, cleaning products, air fresheners, polishing)
  • Environmental tobacco smoke and secondhand smoke

A considerable number of schemes and campaigns are already in place across Suffolk which support active and green travel, reduce emissions from vehicles and improve the knowledge of the population and professionals.

A database of the schemes, the locations, impact and potential funding sources would allow local residents to replicate successful schemes - as well as local authorities, councils and larger employers - without duplicating the work required to develop protocols and reducing the cost.

There is responsibility at every level to improve air quality from national and county legislation, to individual school campaigns such as anti-idling, and personal choice on the use of log burners, for example, and choice of vehicle.

One of the many actions you can take, to reduce both your exposure and how much you contribute to air pollution, is to consider your travel options. Even using a petrol car rather than diesel can make a big difference, especially in towns and cities where NO2 levels are likely to be highest. 

If your journey is less than a mile, walking or cycling are preferable, especially as active travel has the additional benefits of improving physical and mental health and quality of life. Using public transport also makes a difference, as it reduces the number of cars on the road.

You can reduce pollution by turning off engines when waiting, especially when other people are nearby or when waiting for children during the school run.

Defra has provided practical guidance on the best use of open fires and wood-burning stoves and turning down central heating and turning off appliances when they are in standby, or not in use.

In the longer-term, you can consider lower-emission alternatives when buying your next car and updating your home heating system.  Installing energy-saving measures and home electricity generation, using solar panels or wind turbines, can help to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels over time.

Local authorities have a statutory role in assessing and improving local air quality, and the cumulative effects of this local action are significant. A strategic approach involving a combination of legislative, policy, behavioural and technological interventions is required to realise the greatest benefits. Councils can:

  • invest in infrastructure and public transport, and promote active travel and cycle routes
  • implement measures to reduce air pollution caused by road traffic and other sources
  • design healthy environments, bringing in spatial planning, urban design, road and building layouts, and green spaces

There are numerous interventions that are shown to be associated with reductions in air pollutant levels and positive impacts on public health, however, evidence clearly demonstrates that:

  • Single, small scale actions are unlikely to lead to the significant reduction in air pollution needed to protect health
  • Greatest improvements to air quality will be achieved by a clear collaborative strategy that integrates approaches across the different areas of transport, planning, industry, agriculture and behaviour change
  • Individuals and organisations across Suffolk will need to work together and ensure that priority areas are aligned
  • Approaches that span the short, medium and long term are likely to have the best chances of improving air quality