What Is Air Pollution?
Air pollution is a broad term which typically refers to gases or particulates contaminating the atmosphere, which have negative implications for human health, climate change, or the built environment. It is responsible for around 7 million premature deaths every single year, and in ARUP Group’s recent 10 Priorities For Health & Wellbeing air quality ranks as number 1.
Typically when we hear the term air pollution most of us think of outdoor pollution. Smog hanging over a city is a very visible (and horrifying) reminder of the health issues and planetary warming our modern lifestyles create, and although we’ve largely moved away from the traditional source of smog - coal burning - we have enormously increased our use of private vehicles and plastic, causing extremely poor air quality via tailpipe emissions and the petrochemical industry.
But indoor air pollution can be just as damaging to our health as outdoor pollution - and given that we spend 90% of our time in our homes, work, or school, we can be heavily exposed to pollutants without realising. Indoor air pollution can be caused by a number of sources. Nitrogen dioxide can be produced by wood burning stoves and gas burners, as well as proximity to roads. Particulate pollution can come from burning solid fuel as well as from damp spores and mould. Gases like carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide can come from faulty appliances and proximity to industry respectively.
Air pollution is extremely damaging to human health - and locations in Guildford from the A3/A25 to A3/A31 at times records the highest levels of air pollution in England! Prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollution causes significantly increased risk of ischemic stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer, but it can also have a severely negative impact on mental health, and is closely tied to rates of depression
What Does This Project Achieve?
Health & wellbeing
Watch: GCARE at Guildford's Car Free Day, using ZERO the day after we got the keys!
What Are We Doing About Air Pollution
Surrey’s Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) and Guildford Living Lab (GLL) are working with Zero Carbon Guildford to design, set up and operate a real-time air quality monitoring system to monitor particulate matter in different size fractions using low-cost sensing technology.
An air pollution sensing unit provided by GCARE has been installed at ZERO on Friary Street, which allows Guildford residents and visitors to see real-time air pollution concentration data for Guildford town centre. By watching the figures, people can see the spike in particulate matter levels when a motorbike, bus or taxi passes - and even when restaurants on Friary Street fire up the kitchens!
Particulate matter pollution has an adverse impact on both physical and mental health, especially the health of vulnerable people like the elderly and children, and is a particular problem in Guildford where traffic levels are high and the geography inhibits the dispersion of pollution. By measuring local pollution levels, the team hopes to better understand the scale of the problem and encourage local people to identify and engage with initiatives to clean up Guildford’s air.
What Problem Is This Addressing?
Air pollution is described as 'the world's largest single environmental health risk'.
Worldwide: 7 million deaths per year
Life expectancy: 2.9 yr mean loss
UK: 36,000 deaths per year
GDP: health impacts of air pollution are estimated to cost more than 4% of the GDP in the 15 most polluting countries
Risk Of Death: For every 10μg/m3 increase in fine particulate pollution your risk of mortality increases by a further:
- all cause mortality: 4%
- heart disease mortality: 6%
- lung cancer mortality: 8%
(10μg/m3 could be anywhere from a 2-40% increase in your area's average air pollution)
Who Are GCARE and Guildford Living Lab
GCARE was one of the original groups who contributed to the set-up of ZERO. We were delighted to have one of University Of Surrey's world-leading research labs contribute to ZERO right from our official launch.
Within the town centre space GCARE, and its platform for community outreach, Guildford Living Lab, shares several public resources with ZERO visitors around air pollution and climate change. Some of them include:
Interactive display system - a playful quiz for people to learn about their daily exposure levels;
HedgeDate tool – a web-based application that incorporates GCARE research findings on green infrastructure design for air pollution abatement, and which end-users can consult for context- and species-specific advice in the form of output data, based upon user-directed input data (e.g. planting space, distance from road, road classification, etc.).
GCARE's iScape interactive quiz at ZERO
Heat-Cool initiative – an educational initiative aiming to bring awareness among school children on how energy heats and cools our planet, how it affects us, and what we can do about it?
A booklet, Mitigating Exposure to Traffic Pollution in and around Schools, that outlines 10 general and 10 specific recommendations that schools and communities can follow to improve the quality of air for children across the country. The booklet has been translated into 20 languages thus far and released in over 15 countries.
A booklet, Implementing Green Infrastructure for Air Pollution Abatement: General Recommendations for Management and Plant Species Selection, that summarises best practice regarding the implementation of green infrastructure for improved urban air quality and reduced human exposure to air pollution.
Public Health England infographic on air pollution sources
Tackling Air Pollution
The project is funded by the Higher Education Innovation Fund as part of the RealAir project, which aims to create evidence through local pilot case studies like this of ‘working locally to impact globally’. The aim is to use the measurements to highlight to local people what is in the air they breathe when enjoying the boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants in Guildford’s popular town centre, to encourage people to act to address the problem, and to help identify what specific actions can best reduce particulate matter pollution in Guildford.
Professor Prashant Kumar, founding Director of the University of Surrey’s Global Centre for Clean Air research (GCARE) and founder of Guildford Living Lab, says of the collaboration at ZERO:
“This is citizen science working alongside the top levels of academic science. Anyone can get involved. I think people will be surprised to learn their levels of exposure to pollution at a fine-grained level and motivated to do something about the local pollution problem. The good news is that GCARE has developed guidance on how to reduce pollution, so there are plenty of ideas for positive change.”
David Carpenter-Lomax, Trustee at Zero Carbon Guildford, says: “We’ve got world experts from the University of Surrey helping us here in Guildford, creating a fantastic opportunity for local people to come together and make our hometown a healthier, cleaner place to enjoy. Come to ZERO Carbon Guildford on Friary Street and you’ll see the real time data and how it is impacted by what’s going on outside. Over time, we’ll be able to see the impact of our efforts to clean up Guildford, which will benefit local residents and the wider world.”
The air pollution sensing unit has been installed at ZCG and the instruments are being calibrated and checked but the provisional data is visible. Trial experiments are continuing through March, with the system scheduled for full operation next in April 2022, when particulate matter pollution figures will be available 24/7 both at ZERO and updated in real time on this webpage.
How Can You Get Involved?
There are lots of ways you can get involved in tackling air pollution, from increasing your levels of active travel, lobbying Surrey County Council for better cycling infrastructure and more secure bike parking in town centres and residential areas, and by switching your electricity supplier to a 100% renewable tariff.
But you can also get involved directly with GCARE's work in Guildford. We've recently linked County School up with the team to join Pewley Down school and the Royal Grammar School in undertaking GCARE's 'Heat-Cool' initiative. This is a fantastic way for students to get a taste of a STEM inititative, whilst teaching them about air quality and the climate crisis.
GCARE can even help you design your front garden's vegetation and hedge with their brilliant hedgeDATE tool to minimise the level of harmful pollution entering your home or place of work! If your school, church group or organisation would like to take advantage of these world-leading research services then get in touch with us today.
GCARE’s Guildford Living Lab and ZERO will continue their joint collaborations and efforts to tackle the issue of air pollution and climate change. Please visit news pages of GCARE/GLL and Zero Carbon Guildford for updates.