Bishopston Air Quality – What Could We Do?

I’ve been concerned about air pollution (around Gloucester Road and generally around Bristol) and its effects on everyone’s health. I have some ideas about what we could do to change things and there’s a possibility of some funding from Bristol Green Capital to make it happen – this article outlines some of my thoughts. Get in touch if you have ideas or opinions, or if you want to get involved.

To set the scene:

  • Air pollution across most of Bristol is higher that it should be, regularly breaching government health objectives.
  • Most (not all) of this air pollution is from vehicle exhausts.
  • Levels of some pollutants are falling gradually – probably down to improved vehicle technology and tighter vehicle emissions regulations.
  • Bristol is unlikely to meet government or EU targets in some pollutants any time soon.
  • Bristol is not unique in this respect – many large UK cities have the same problem.
  • Our current mayor is putting in place various measures which should reduce traffic levels and ultimately pollution, but much more could be done.
  • A change of major in the future could see many of these measures halted or reversed.

In my opinion, public awareness of levels of air pollution in Bristol is limited and the health effects are hard to quantify and victims often don’t identify the problems as being related to air pollution. There is a level of public demand for cleaner air but it might be much higher if people were more aware. A campaign to promote awareness, including making live air pollution information more easily accessible, might create more demand.

Awareness of pollution levels could be promoted by very local monitoring – for example roadside monitoring on Gloucester Road. The closest Council monitoring station is in St Pauls but levels of air pollution vary enormously with proximity to traffic. Our local traders campaign vigorously against anything which might reduce the volume of traffic on Gloucester Road – if their customers were more aware of and more concerned about the levels of toxic fumes in the air maybe  the traders would campaign for less traffic?

Levels of air pollution vary through the day (generally peaking at rush-hour) and also with the weather (being highest at the roadside when there’s little wind). Daily forecasts of pollution levels are available (from the Met Office amongst others) and hourly readings from sites across the city are published online by the Council. This information could be made more available, perhaps by digital displays in public places or text message alerts of high pollution levels. A mobile phone app could alert you to poor air quality in your current location (based on published real-time data from nearby monitoring stations) – London has such an app already.

Various consumer devices are available for monitoring air pollution. They are generally inexpensive but are not calibrated and so should only be used to give an indicative measurement. A number of Air Quality Egg devices have been built in Bristol and various other devices are available. These types of devices do make useful learning tools and interesting displays to promote awareness.

A number of other sources of pollution can be identified (bear in mind that these are likely to be far less significant than vehicle exhausts): industrial processes, domestic bonfires (especially burning damp garden waste or burning litter), fireworks, domestic heating burning coal or wood (the whole of Bristol is a smoke control area: wood is fine only when in an approved log-burning store, coal is not; smokeless fuel is fine).

Do you have ideas about what we could do to to improve our are? Please get in touch.

Further information:

  1. Bristol Council air quality page
  2. Bristol Air Quality Stats
  3. Bristol City Council – A Short Report on Air Quality: 2013
  4. Bristol Green Capital Factsheet
  5. DEFRA live air quality stats including St Pauls, Bristol
  6. More live Bristol air pollution readings (doesn’t include the St Pauls monitor station, above, I’m not sure why)

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