Click on a question below to view the answer.
Back to top
- What is air pollution?
- Pollution may be described as substances, chemicals or particles in the air that may be harmful to human health, the natural environment or the built environment. Pollution may be caused by human activity such as industrial emissions, traffic emissions and the burning of fossil fuels. Pollution may also come from natural sources such as volcanoes and forest fires.
Levels of outdoor pollution are addressed in the National Air Quality Strategy. Local authorities are required to assess air quality in their districts with reference to limits set for seven pollutants given in the Strategy. The pollutants assessed by local authorities are nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, benzene, 1,3-butadiene, lead, carbon monoxide and PM10 (particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 microns).
At a national level the government also assesses levels of other pollutants such as ozone, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals and dioxins.
- How does the air quality in North Lincolnshire compare to other parts of the country?
- Where air quality is assessed as likely to fail to meet the objectives set out in National Air Quality Strategy, the local authority has to declare an Air Quality Management Area. To date approximately 200 local authorities have declared all or parts of their districts as Air Quality Management Areas. Most of these air quality management areas have been declared as a result of traffic pollution and refer to nitrogen dioxide or very fine particulate matter (particles less than 10 microns across known as PM10).
In North Lincolnshire it has been necessary to declare one Air Quality Management Area which covers the eastern part of Scunthorpe and refers to PM10 pollution. North Lincolnshire Council is working on action planning to reduce the levels of PM10 in and around this Air Quality Management Area.
All other pollutants assessed through the Local Air Quality Management process throughout North Lincolnshire are within the objectives set.
For most of North Lincolnshire the air quality is better than congested urban areas in other parts of the UK where traffic pollution may be a problem. However, the area close to the heavy industrial sites on the eastern side of Scunthorpe has higher levels of PM10 pollution than the rest of North Lincolnshire.
- What are the causes of poor air quality in North Lincolnshire?
- Pollution may be caused by human activity such as industrial emissions, traffic emissions and the burning of fossil fuels. Pollution may also come from natural sources such as volcanoes and forest fires. Pollutants can travel considerable distances and cross international boundaries, so sometimes poor air quality may be a result of things happening in other parts of UK and other parts of the world.
North Lincolnshire Council is investigating the causes of the higher levels of PM10 in the Air Quality Management Area. Local industrial emissions are an important source of PM10 in this area.
- What are the long-term effects of particle exposure on mortality?
- Studies in the United States show that people living in less polluted cities live longer than people living in more polluted cities. This was mainly due to changes in deaths from heart disease.
- Who are the susceptible people?
- The susceptible groups are not known for certain but the studies have investigated this. It was found that people over 50, those already ill with heart or lung disease and smokers were not more susceptible than other groups. Those with a lower level of education were more susceptible - this is probably because people with a lower level of education are often poorer and suffer more ill health as a consequence. Even though we do not understand exactly who is susceptible, it is a reasonable assumption from our understanding of other health effects that some people will be more susceptible than others.
- How can particulate pollution have an effect on heart disease?
- The mechanism of the effect is not understood but it is known from other evidence that short-term increases in levels of particles can increase heart disease deaths and hospital admissions. Theories have been put forward that inflammation in the lung could affect the clotting ability of the blood which could then have an effect on heart disease but it is not known whether this actually applies in the case of long-term effects.
- How can I avoid exposure to particles?
- We are all exposed to particles in the air we breathe. Avoiding exposure is not possible though Government policies are reducing the amount of particles in the air.
- If particles cause heart disease: can I do anything to prevent this?
- Long-term exposure to particles is thought to contribute to the causes of heart disease. Other factors including smoking, lack of exercise and diet probably play a much more important role and these are things that we can all do something about. Not smoking, eating a healthy diet and taking exercise reduce the likelihood of heart disease.
- I don't want my children to develop heart disease: how can I reduce their exposure to particles?
- Reducing long-term exposure to particles is not something that can be accomplished by individuals. We can all play a part in reducing general levels of particles by walking and cycling more and using our cars less. This will also be good for our health.
- You say the effect is of a similar order to the effect of passive smoking on heart disease. How do you know?
- The Department of Health's Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) felt it was important to try to put the effects of long-term exposure to particles in context although this is not always easy to do. The Committee compared studies of the increased risk of dying from heart disease in people living with smokers with the studies of the increased risk of dying from heart disease in the most polluted cities in the US. These risks are similar. The methodology for expressing changes in risks of heart disease deaths (rather than deaths from all causes) as a change in life expectancy is not yet developed. However, the methodology would be the same in both cases so the impact on life expectancy would also be similar.
- What do these new findings mean for people with asthma?
- The main effect of particles relates to the effect of long-term exposure on life expectancy. It is not thought that air pollution causes asthma.
- But surely this long-term exposure to pollution is the reason for the increase in asthma?
- In 1995 the Department of Health's Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) published a major report on "Asthma and Outdoor Air Pollution". This report concluded that "with regard to the initiation of asthma (ie causing the disease in the first place), most of the available evidence does not support a causative role for outdoor air pollution". The authors went on to say that though asthma had increased in the UK over the past thirty years this was unlikely to be due to changes in air pollution. It was accepted that short-term exposure to air pollutants could produce a worsening of symptoms in those suffering from asthma but that other factors probably played a much more important role.
Poor air quality may increase the risk of suffering symptoms of heart or lung disease.
- How can I find out what the air quality is like near my home?
- Contact North Lincolnshire Council's Environmental Protection Team:
||01724 297318 or 297617
||North Lincolnshire Council
Neighbourhood & Environmental Services
Environmental Protection Team
Church Square House
The national website at: http://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/
- What is being done to improve the air quality in North Lincolnshire?
- A Local Industry Forum has been set up to work on actions to reduce emissions of pollution in the Air Quality Management Area.
- Pollution prevention improvements are being carried out by local industry regulated by the Environment Agency and North Lincolnshire Council under the Pollution Prevention and Control Act.
- The Council has drafted an Action Plan to work on action to reduce emissions of pollution in North Lincolnshire.
- When considering planning applications the Council will use development controls to gain improvements in local air quality.
- The Council's Local Transport Plan continues to address measures to encourage reduction in pollution.
- What is the council's role in managing air quality?
- The Council has a duty to carry out review and assessment of air quality within North Lincolnshire with reference to the National Air Quality Strategy (see q. 1). Where pollutants breach objectives set down in the Strategy, the Council has to declare an Air Quality Management Area. Following declaration of the Air Quality Management Area the Council has to carry out a thorough assessment of air quality in that area. The assessment is used to help to identify sources of the pollutant and this assists in the production of an Action Plan setting out action to be taken to improve air quality.
Although it is the Council's role to produce the Action Plan, many of the actions within that Action Plan may be the responsibility of other parties such as local industry, and other regulaors rather than actions that can be directly taken by the Council.
Action taken at the local level can be an effective way of tackling localised AQ problems.
- What can I do to help reduce air pollution?
- Avoid having bonfires.
- If you have a solid fuel fire, burn smokeless fuel on an approved smokeless appliance.
- Consider transport options.
- Look at energy efficiency options for your home.
- Responsible purchasing.