Why is Air Quality Important?
Air Pollution and the effects on health
Air quality is a term which refers to how polluted the air we breathe is. The quality of air can have an effect on you. When air quality is poor pollutants suspended in the air can cause short- and long-term effects on your health.
Short term exposure can irritate airways, cause coughing and make existing respiratory illnesses worse. Long term exposure can potentially lead to potential development of illnesses such as asthma, lung cancer and pulmonary disease. It has also been shown to reduce the function of the developing lungs in children. People with heart and lung conditions, children and older adults are especially vulnerable.
It affects millions of people worldwide and is responsible for nearly 9,400 premature deaths in London every year. The estimated costs of poor health as a result of air pollution to the NHS have been identified as £20 billion a year.
Where does it come from?
In Kensington and Chelsea, the main contributor to poor air quality is emissions caused by road transport. There are several major roads with heavy traffic flow to and from Central London. Cleaner fuels, electric vehicles and catalytic converters help reduce emissions from vehicles. More people walking and cycling or using public transport would also result in emission reductions as fewer cars would be on the road.
The whole borough of Kensington and Chelsea has been a Smoke Control Area since 2004. This means it is an offence to emit smoke from a chimney of a building, furnace or fixed boiler. There are also tight restrictions on the types of appliances that be installed within buildings, and the fuels being burnt within them. Woodburning stoves and coal fires are the single biggest source of PM2.5 [RSR1] which is identified as the most harmful pollutant for human health. For more information visit our Smoke Control Page.
The construction industry is a major source of air pollution in the Borough. Common construction activities that contribute to air pollution and poor air quality are:
Use of plant and Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) on site. NRMM, are mobile machines and transportable industrial equipment fitted with internal combustion engines and are a significant contributor to London’s air pollution.
Land clearing and demolition generate high levels of particulate pollution or dust.
The use of hazardous chemicals which can produce noxious vapours.
The Council help manage potential emissions from any development through the planning process by reviewing applications and providing conditions to adhere to. For more information please visit our Air Quality and Planning page.
Industrial processes are another source of air pollution having an impact on local air quality. The Council regulates small industrial processes under the Pollution Prevention and Control regime. These include:
- Petrol filling stations – unloading of petrol into storage
- Dry Cleaners- use of organic solvents
For more information on the regulations, legislation and location of industrial processes please visit our Environmental permitting page. If you operate or are planning to operate in the borough a dry cleaning installation, a petrol filling station or any other activity that falls under the regulations please visit our Information for Operators page.
Domestic heating is a significant source of air pollution in Kensington and Chelsea. A recent modelling study undertaken in 2020 identified that Heat & Power Generation accounted for 10% of PM2.5 emissions in the borough
The two main pollutants are listed below:
Nitrogen Dioxide or NO2 is one of a group of gases called the nitrogen oxides (NOx). It is a gaseous air pollutant formed when fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel are burned at high temperatures. It can irritate air ways of the lungs, reduce lung function, and worsen pre-existing lung conditions. Research suggests it is likely to be a cause of asthma in children.
Particulate Matter or PM is a term used to describe a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in the air. Some of these particles such as soot, dust and dirt are coarse, and large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Coarse particles can irritate the eyes and airways. Smaller particles like those that are 10 micrometres (also known as PM10) and those 2.5 micrometres or smaller (known as PM2.5) are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream causing health problems. These are not visible to the naked eye (a human hair ranges between 20 – 200 micrometres) so can be an invisible killer.
What can I do?
We all have a responsibility to help improve air quality by reducing the pollution our everyday activities cause. There are many things that we do that make a difference.
Think about whether you need to take a journey by car. Walking is a quick, reliable and healthy way of getting around. It improves fitness, saves money and helps the environment. Journeys under 1 mile are often quicker to walk than any other method of transport.
Plan your urban walking route by visiting the Walkit website. You can get a route map between any two points including journey time and calories burnt. You can also select the low pollution option, which will give you a walking route which minimises overall exposure to nitrogen dioxide. These routes may often be away from the busy, noisy roads.
Cycling is another alternative which keeps you fit and healthy, and can often be quicker than driving or public transport. To start cycling you could use the Try before you Bike scheme which provides access to low cost bicycle hire, and discounted purchases. You can also hire the Santander Cycles from 93 docking stations in Kensington and Chelsea, visit the TFL website for further details on Santander bikes.
We offer free cycle training for anyone who lives, works and studies in the borough. To book a session visit our cycle training page. There are also free cycle maintenance courses and free bicycle checks from Dr Bike available. For information and maps of cycle routes visit the TFL website.
Using public transport to get around, leads to fewer cars on the road (and therefore less pollution) , reduces congestion and therefore improves air quality.
Car club schemes
Car club membership is often cheaper than car ownership and can allow members to use a vehicle a ‘pay as you drive’ basis. It is also thought to reduce parking demand, congestion and therefore improve air quality. The Council has provided 210 car club bays on-street. This means that virtually all residents are within a three-minute walk of at least one on-street car club bay. To find out more visit our Car Club page.
Older vehicles, and especially diesel engines create the most air pollution contributing to poor air quality in the borough. When replacing your car consider switching to an ultra-low emission vehicle- that could be electric, but others are available. Information on environmentally friendly cars, including those exempt from the congestion charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) charges visit the Next Green Car website. To check if your vehicle meets the ULEZ standards visit the TFL website.
Don’t be Idle!
Road Transport is the biggest source of air pollution in the borough. Leaving a car engine on whilst stationary is known as idling. It causes unnecessary pollution, wastes fuel and money. Don’t Be Idle and switch the engine off when at a standstill. Visit our Don't Be Idle page for further information.
Improve Energy Efficiency at Home
Emissions from domestic boilers are a significant source of air pollution in London contributing to poor air quality in the borough. Making efficiency improvements to your home you can both save money and reduce these emissions. If you are thinking about replacing your boiler, please consider an ultra low NOx boiler.