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Air Quality Investigation Reveals Concerning Levels of Pollution

An investigation by Torfaen Friends of the Earth of air quality in Cwmbrân, Pontnewydd and Sebastopol has revealed concerning levels of pollutants. The group monitored air quality at five sites for several weeks, with the kind assistance of Torfaen Council's monitoring officers, providing a snapshot of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution during that time.

A Royal College of Physicians (RCP) report published in 2016 identified 40,000 early deaths in the UK each year as attributable to exposure to air pollution, including NO2, a toxic gas which inflames the lining of the lungs. A major source of NO2 is the burning of fossil fuels, particularly to power motor vehicles, and NO2 pollution is highest close to roads. The European Union have set a legal mean annual limit for NO2 exposure at 40 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3). The RCP argue that the legal limits for NO2 do not represent ‘safe’ levels of exposure to air pollution, but rather are levels that do not pose a ‘significant risk’ to health that have been set without a clear evidential basis.

We monitored levels of NO2 at five places in Torfaen and the results are in the table below. The lowest values were recorded at a site away from heavy traffic that was used to provide a figure for background levels of pollution.

Location Results (μg/m3) Adjusted Results (μg/m3)
Rear Garden – Property Five Locks Close, Pontnewydd 10.62 9.56
Lamp post - TG26 Sebastopol Station Road 27.54 24.79
Lamp post - TJ549 Avondale Rd Junction with Clos Blaen Brân 33.26 29.93
Lamp post - 207 Ponthewydd Village by Odd Fellows Pub 40.09 36.08
Lamp post - TL1863 Cwmbrân Drive/Sainsbury's Roundabout 43.91 39.52

Carole Jacob of Torfaen Friends of the Earth said, “The adjusted levels show that we are below the national average but this should not give way to complacency.

Air pollution is an invisible killer and we know that road traffic is the biggest problem, diesel being the worst of all, which is why we need bold action to get diesel vehicles off the road and encourage people to walk and cycle more. Car manufacturers need to step up to the task to implement a a diesel scrappage scheme to help motorists shift to clean vehicles and alternatives to driving. Dirty air affects us all. But we can each help each other by turning off idling engines outside shops and cash points, which I have often witnessed. People passing by have to breathe in these fumes and children are at particular risk at this low level.”

More information is available on Friends of the Earth's Clean Air Campaign, which provides details of how to obtain Clean Air Kits to monitor air pollution. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) report provides a clear exposition of the dangers of poor air quality to human health.