Improving Air Quality For The Next Generation - Clean Air Day 2021 By Imogen Player

This year’s Clean Air Day focuses on protecting children’s health from air pollution. This is an important focus, especially as headlines were made last year of nine-year old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death being the first to be officially recognised as caused by air pollution. She lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham and suffered a fatal asthma attack caused by toxic gases and particles in air pollution. I think we can all agree that absolutely no child should be disadvantaged in their health or life prospects based on how close they live to a main road.

Sadly, the facts don’t get any brighter in the 8 years since Ella’s death. A recently published (2021) study of 2019 data collected NO2 and PM2.5 data for 29,000 education institutions for 0-18 year olds across England, Scotland and Wales. They found that over a quarter (27%) are above WHO air pollution limits. That’s around 3.4 million children learning in an unhealthy environment.

How does air quality impact health?

Both outdoor and indoor air pollution contribute to ill health. Particulate matter, known as PM2.5 and PM10, comes from fuel combustion in vehicles and plant and can penetrate deep into the lungs causing chronic respiratory problems. PM2.5, being smaller, can even penetrate the lung barrier and cross into the blood system. This increases the risk of heart, respiratory diseases and lung cancer. Ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide can all cause asthma, bronchial symptoms and lung damage.

What easy actions can my organisation do to tackle air pollution?

  • Don’t idle. Are you really still idling?! Whether you’re at work and idling in plant or machinery, or at home and idling in your own car, it really is so last decade to be idling. (And a really quick win to reduce air pollution, carbon emissions and cost to yourself!) Many companies and councils have their own idle campaigns, such as Westminster City Council’s #DontbeIdle
  • Changing travel habits. The less you travel, the less fossil fuels are used, the less pollutants are released. During the covid-19 lockdowns across 2020 and 2021, less people travelled for work and leisure, causing global air pollution to decline. Ask your employer if you’re able to change your work habits to work from home more often.
  • Procure sustainable equipment. Think about the whole life cost of your plant and equipment, the engine standards you should be buying (see Minimum Standards), and the air quality and carbon impacts associated with the production, maintenance and disposal of the equipment. See, it’s not just as simple as buying the cheapest product!
  • Use cleaner technologies. Use or purchase electric or hybrid vehicles where possible. These emit fewer (and sometimes zero) greenhouse gases and air pollutants. The important thing to remember here is the source of the electricity that you’re using to charge the batteries. Where you can, move to a green electricity tariff, this ensures that the electricity you’re using is from renewable sources which means they don’t emit greenhouse gases. If all you’re doing is purchasing electricity that’s been created by burning fossil fuels to charge your electric fleet – it’s really quite pointless going electric.
  • Use cleaner fuel sources. Think about using renewable fuel sources. Can you use renewable electricity? Can you connect directly to the mains? These are the best options, followed by using hybrid or Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) over diesel. HVO is a biofuel made from waste vegetable oil, processed to make it suitable for use in diesel engines. It’s considered a sustainable alternative to conventional diesel on the journey towards zero emissions.

What harder actions should we be looking at?

  • If you’re working near schools or near areas where children walk to or from School, consider working with the School. For example, you could help them to develop their Clean Air for Schools Framework. This can be part of your community/CSR/social value framework or associated activities.
  • Designing for improved air quality. Engage with design teams to design in systems to improve air quality. You can think about things like using more fresh, natural air, rather than air that’s been processed through an air conditioning system. Indoor air quality can also impact wellbeing and productivity.

There are many ways to improve the quality of the air we breathe; the technologies are there, all we need to do is alter the way we live, work and, buy. If you’re reducing air quality impacts, the likelihood is that you’re also reducing your carbon emissions, saving on resources and reducing costs. Isn’t that a win-win-win-win?!

Where can I look for more information?

For more information

Imogen Player
Consultant
Imogen@actionsustainability.com

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