How exposed are Londoners to poor air quality in their daily routines? Where is air quality poor and what steps can people take to reduce risk?

To answer these questions Hubbub has partnered with King’s College London and The Times newspaper to track the risks faced by 10 different Londoners. This included a school pupil, a college student, an MP, a construction worker, a HGV driver, a gas safe engineer, a city cyclist, a doctor, an office worker and a runner.  

The air quality monitoring was overseen by King’s College London and was jointly funded by Bunzl, Grosvenor Estates, Investec, Kingfisher and First Mile. Volunteers were given a portable monitor which tracked their exposure for up to 7 days. The monitors measure black carbon which in an urban environment is most likely to be from traffic. Black carbon is strongly correlated with particulate matter, the pollutant known to be most damaging to human health. Valued at £5,000 each, the monitors are currently one of the most advanced and accurate ways of measuring air quality to help us understand people’s exposure to air pollution. The data collected has been analysed by King’s College London alongside diaries kept by each of the participants.

The full results will be shared by Hubbub during the last week of May, but today The Times has revealed the results of six participants including, Environment Correspondent, Ben Webster.

The initial headline findings are:

  1. Some of the highest readings of poor air quality were recorded by a lorry driver sitting in a cab. It is a common misconception that cyclists and pedestrians are likely to face the lowest air quality, but this result indicates that is not the case.
  2. Taking a less busy route whilst walking or cycling makes a significant difference. One of the cyclists, discovered that their exposure to poor air quality was reduced by 50% when they took back-streets rather than the busy commuter routes.
  3. Air pollution on the tube is high. The deeper lines were much worse than those closer to the surface, with trains over ground being 10 times cleaner. 
  4. Poor air quality is very localised. Taking routes which have less traffic or travelling at different times of the day make a significant difference to personal exposure rates.
  5. Modern office buildings with efficient filter systems tend to have good air quality. In leakier older buildings the situation is very different, especially when they’re located next to busy roads.
  6. The site engineer at a construction site was 6 times more exposed than someone in clean indoor office environment. This highlights an issue around outdoor workers exposure, and suggests outdoor workers are an overlooked vulnerable group.
  7. Burning anything drastically reduces the quality of air. The monitoring could detect when people had lit candles, incense sticks or fires in their homes as there was a spike in poor air quality levels.

Public polling

To support the monitoring, extensive public polling has been undertaken which will provide a broader understanding of how the public views the challenge of poor air quality, how aware are they are of the causes, whether they know what steps they can take to reduce risk and what changes they want to see.

Practical interventions

Hubbub hopes that the findings will lead to the creation of a broader coalition of businesses willing to invest in a series of practical interventions under the Air We Share banner that will reduce Londoner’s exposure to poor air quality and act as a source of inspiration for local authorities across the UK.

Based on the insight and conversations that have taken place we anticipate that these interventions will include:

  • The development of a ‘Well-Being’ programme helping employers cut the risk of poor air quality faced by their employees.
  • Activities working specifically with the construction sector.
  • ‘Way-finder’ messaging helping people take less polluted routes between busy areas.
  • Data visualisation and public art installations.
  • Community campaigns aimed at schools, colleges and vulnerable groups.
  • Last mile solutions aiming to reduce the number of polluting journeys.

If you would like to see full details of the monitoring and polling or would be interested in participating in the wider coalition please email [email protected] or visit www.airweshare.co.uk

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