Airmergency on Planet Earth
Jamiroquwhy is it so bad?
We live in London and over the past week we have seen some air quality alerts being sent by the London Air service from Imperial College London, and wanted to explore what these alerts are and what effect they have on us.
Saturday 9 September: some monitoring stations in London recorded “High” levels of ozone
Sunday 10 September: “Moderate” PM10 and PM2.5 particulates
But what do “Moderate” and “High” mean? And what are the impacts on our health?
Low is actually too high
The levels refer to the Air Quality Index, and for some of the common pollutants is graded as follows. The WHO guidelines for ozone (8 hour mean) are 100µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre), and so “High” ozone is about twice the WHO limit. With PM2.5, the WHO guidelines (24 hour mean) are 15µg/m3 and so even “Moderate” is about four times the WHO limit. On the latter, the WHO recommend this limit is not broken more than 3-4 times a year given the serious impacts of PM2.5 on our health. For more background on all this, see our explainer.
As for the effect on our health, this can be significant. For the general population, the advice is Anyone experiencing discomfort such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors, and for at-risk individuals, Adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms. People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Older people should also reduce physical exertion.
These aren’t just over-cautious words, they are part of the Government’s response to the Ella Kissi-Debrah inquest. If you are not familiar with this sad event, a young girl died with the cause of death being listed as air pollution. These are very real effects that lead to the loss of life.
Around Brixton we’ve been additionally struggling with the recent fire in a waste site. Anecdotally we’re aware of lots of sore throats and the air was certainly very smoky across a wide area. Advice for residents to keep windows shut was not ideal during a heatwave!
You can subscribe to email alerts from the London Air service. This is a great way - particularly if you are an at risk individual - to stay up to date with air pollution. But we think a lot more needs to be done to raise the awareness of air pollution and the acute effects on health.
Update on the node
We thought air quality was all about chemistry, data, climate science and such… but it turns out it’s actually all about planning permission! We are focusing down on some new potential central Brixton locations with the support of the Council and our final hurdle is - yes - the planning department!
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