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Monitoring Air Quality in Newcastle, UK

8 minute read
High levels of air pollution pose a challenge with dire consequences on health.
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High levels of air pollution pose a challenge with dire consequences on health. According to a modern study, the risk of air pollution is exacerbating, as Europe alone has suffered from 790,000 death cases due to ambient air pollution. Air pollution in the UK is a major cause of diseases such as asthma, strokes, and heart disease, and is estimated to cause 40,000 premature deaths each year, which is about 8.3% of deaths while costing around £40 billion each year.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution because they live closer to the ground where gases and dust from vehicles accumulate and they breathe more rapidly than adults which puts them at a greater risk. Air pollution leads to several health challenges, such as stunted growth and respiratory issues, which are possible causes of cancer in children.

In order to achieve governmental goals in both Europe and the United Kingdom, the UK should reduce its emissions. One basic requirement to achieve this is the detection, first and foremost, of the level of air pollution, especially in areas with a high level of pollution risk. To address this challenge, the Newcastle City Council prioritized poor air quality and will address this issue in every part of the city. To shed light on the importance of air quality in policy decisions, the Council established, in 2019, a sensor network to paint policymakers a more accurate picture of the air quality that children are breathing within a collaboration project between Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council. The project involved the installation of 22 sensors to measure air pollution outside schools nearing major roads to monitor levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM) change over time, season, temperature, and weather.

The Newcastle University’s Urban Observatory collects and uses data to engage directly-affected children and give them a chance to contribute to the planning of their cities in the future. The Urban Observatory is the largest urban experiment in the UK collecting data from 60 different urban indicators, everything from energy use, rainfall, and flooding to air pollution and traffic flow. By August 2020, the Urban Observatory deployed over 3,600 sensors across Newcastle that add 5,000 new observations every minute.

Children are not oblivious to the impact of air pollution on their health and future. Climate protests in Europe have proven that young people are pushing air pollution and the climate crisis to the top of the political agenda. These protests also showed that children were requesting a platform to challenge pollution in their environment, but they had to take radical measures since they were unable to express their concerns at school. The project embraces children's creativity and passion for taking radical actions against air pollution and climate change. In addition to raising awareness of existing challenges, the project seeks to encourage more active travel and fewer car journeys, especially when going to school.

Early data readings showed that NO2 had exceeded double the average annual legal limit allowed outside several schools at 9 a.m., including Broadway East First School and Cragside Primary School. The government hopes that efforts to raise family awareness of the health risks of air pollution would encourage more parents to stop taking children to school by car and turning off their car engines outside school gates, in addition to giving young climate enthusiasts an opportunity to take action as they see fit. As part of its efforts to reduce the problems of air pollution and obesity, Newcastle schools received grant funding in May 2019 to encourage children to walk or ride a bicycle or scooter to get to school. This initiative is expected to improve the physical and mental health of children. As for pollution, research shows that community members, in general, and children, in particular, are breathing higher levels of polluted air inside cars than outside. On another note, 16 Newcastle schools have applied for a grant from Newcastle City Council's Healthy Pupils Capital Fund (HPCF). Accordingly, €126,077 will be divided among schools to help them educate students on air pollution and improve air quality in surrounding areas.

The city of Newcastle is considering issuing special badges for children that warn them if exposed to high levels of air pollution while going to school. These badges would degrade more quickly if the air around them was filled with toxic pollutants. In the same context, Newcastle City Council leaders are planning to introduce Clean Air Zone in 2021, which imposes a £50 charge on highly polluting vehicles that enter the city center.





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