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10 september 2019

Air quality: after 40 years’ effort, the United Kingdom can breathe more easily… at last!

Teamed with technological advances made over the past decades, the measures taken since the seventies to improve air quality in the United Kingdom are now bearing fruit.

According to the conclusions of a recent study conducted by the “Centre for Ecology & Hydrology,” air quality in the United Kingdom has significantly improved over the past 40 years. 


Described as “revolutionary” by its authors, this study has accurately quantified the emission levels of different air pollutants in the UK between 1970 and 2010. Their research’s* extremely precise modeling has highlighted a strong drop — between 58% and 93% — in annual emissions of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) over this period. 


These results make it possible to calculate the drop in mortality rates attributed to pollutants increasing the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases: 56% for PM2.5 and 44% for NO2(nitrogen dioxide). After rising between 1970 and 1990, the mortality rate linked to pollution by ground-level ozone (O3) (lung damage) subsequently fell by 24%. 


“Our results demonstrate the effectiveness of a series of policies at UK level since 1970 and this research supports policy-makers' efforts to continue implementing much-needed measures to further improve air quality. Technology advances such as the three-way catalytic converter for cars and equipment to reduce sulfur and nitrogen dioxide emissions from large power plants have been driven by legislation,” stated Edward Carnell, co-author of the study.


Nonetheless, the study points the finger at a pollutant “forgotten” in air quality policies: ammonia (NH3). Released into the air when manure, slurry and fertilizer are sprayed, it not only poses a threat to human health but also leads to a loss of biodiversity. And while its emissions decreased by 17% between 1970 and 2010, they have risen again over the past few years. As a result, ammonia is now the target of a reinforced national strategy to reduce its emissions by 16% by 2030 (compared to 2005).



*This research — which covers a long period — excludes weather factors from the modeling: any variation in air pollution can therefore be directly attributed to emission levels.



© Veolia Photo Library - Christophe majani d'Inguimbert