Monday, 08 March 2021

Particles from traffic fumes almost above ‘safe’ limit

Particles from traffic fumes almost above ‘safe’ limit

AIR pollution in Henley is almost above the new levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.

Readings from a particulate monitor which was installed in Greys Road in July show the levels of PM2.5, or atmospheric particulate matter, measuring less than 2.5micrometers.

These tiny particles are expelled from vehicle exhausts and can cause long-term health problems, such as asthma.

During a six-week period between August and September, the monitor recorded a peak of 25 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 and an average of about 10 micrograms.

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak told a Henley Town Council meeting: “PM2.5 is the very smallest carbon particles. It is particularly insidious because you can breathe in these tiny particles and they can actually go into the bloodstream and cause long-term health effects.

“At the moment, the legal limit is around about 20 and our figure at the moment is around about 10. The World Health Organisation has just brought out a report which says that the safe limit should be 10 and below, so we are in the zone.”

Councillor Laurence Plant said the measurements were likely to exceed the safe levels when normal traffic resumed after the coronavirus pandemic.

Cllr Gawrysiak said air quality campaigners had warned that the levels were likely to rise in the winter.

He added: “This is a 12-month monitoring exercise and while the readings are currently within government guidelines, we will get more valuable data over the whole 12 months. One six-week report does not make a summer and we’ve got to build up the data over six months to see what is happening.”

During the same period, the monitor recorded levels of PM10, which are larger particulates, as high as 45 micrograms per cubic meter with a daily average of 13 μg/m3.

Nitrogen dioxide levels reached up to 50 micrograms per cubic metre, although the average was closer to 15 μg/m3.

The monitor, which is fitted to the Screaming Frog building, is the first of its kind in Oxfordshire. It cost £16,000, which was split between the town council and South Oxfordshire District Council, which is responsible for tackling air pollution.

Meanwhile, data released by the district council has shown levels of nitrogen dioxide in Henley have fallen by more than 20 per cent since March.

A monitor measuring air quality in Duke Street showed a drop from 22 micrograms per cubic metre to 17 μg/m3 between March and September.

This compared with a reading closer to 30 μg/m3 in March last year. Every month during the period showed an improvement compared with 2019.

In Watlington, where air quality is recorded at the town hall in Couching Street, there has been a fall in levels of NO2 from 25 micrograms per cubic metre to 19 μg/m3 since March.

Air quality campaigner David Dickie, of St Katherine’s Road, Henley, said the figures were skewed as a result of the coronavirus.

He said: “Everybody is saying ‘Why can’t we have it like this all the time’ and it is because of covid. We usually have traffic volumes 30 or 40 per cent above capacity in Henley and now we are well below.

“The traffic has dropped by about half. I can cycle around the town quite freely because there is less traffic and very few queues.”

Mr Dickie said he expected the levels of traffic in most places to return to normal after the pandemic.

“A few people might start cycling a bit more but in general I think people will go back,” he said.

“I know a lot of people now who just work from home, so that will probably be the biggest change. The Government is encouraging people to get back into work and they are ignoring them, I think, because a second wave is coming.”

Mr Dickie says he is passionate about improving local air quality because of the effect on the health of children. When he visited Henley primary schools before the lockdown, he found that 20 per cent of pupils used an inhaler.

Recent improvements have coincided with Clean Air Day earlier this month when the district council encouraged residents to walk or cycle if possible.

The council’s environmental protection team has been monitoring the effect of the lockdown and the lack of traffic on the levels of pollution, focusing on the areas designated as Air Quality Management Areas, including Henley and Watlington.

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