Last edited 05 Sep 2018

Air quality in the built environment

Contents

[edit] Introduction

Human activities have contributed significantly to the creation of air borne pollutants, largely as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. Air pollution can result in harm to the natural environment and adverse effects on human health.

The effects of long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to respiratory and inflammatory illness and also more serious conditions such as heart disease and cancer. More information on the health effects is provided on the UK AIR website.

In February 2016, the Royal College of Physicians published 'Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution' in which they claimed that each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution. See BSRIA responds to UK Air Pollution Report for more information.

Air pollution can also damage plants and animals which in turn can effect biodiversity and crop yields.

[edit] Legislation and standards

The UK national emission totals are reported on an annual basis to the European Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on the Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The convention agreed, amongst other protocols, the Gothenberg Protocol which sets emission reduction targets to be achieved by 2020.

The limits for certain pollutants is set by the EU ambient air quality directives. In recent decades, the air pollution levels in the UK have declined significantly and the UK meets the air quality standards for the majority of pollutants. One pollutant that remains problematic is nitrogen dioxide levels close to roads in urban areas.

[edit] European directives

Relevant EU directives include:

[edit] National legislation

In the UK, under the Environment Act 1995 and the Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002, local authorities are required to review air quality and designate management areas if improvements are required.

Other relevant legislation includes:

The Environment Agency are the regulators for air quality levels from large industrial processes and work with the local authorities and Highways England to manage the government’s Air Quality Strategy.

The seven main pollutants that are covered by the 2000 Regulations are:

  • Benzene.
  • 1,3 Butadiene.
  • Carbon monoxide.
  • Lead.
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
  • Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5).
  • Sulphur dioxide.

The Environmental Audit Committee undertake periodic reviews of air quality in the UK. The 2014 report found that the government needed to act to help meet the EU air quality targets within cities.

[edit] Local Air Quality Management

A Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) framework was established by the government under the Environment Act 1995, and requires local authorities to assess air quality within their areas. Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) are then designated where the UK standards and objectives are not being met.

An air quality action plan must be compiled by a local authority if it declares an air quality
management area.

[edit] Development and air quality

Many development projects have the potential to affect air quality and where appropriate, an air quality assessment may be required. Air quality assessments are typically undertaken by independent consultants and consider both the construction and operational phases of the project. They may be required as part of a formal Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or as a stand-alone report submitted in support of a planning application.

[edit] Updates

In August 2018, new research was published claiming to show that regular exposure to low levels of air pollution may lead to the heart undergoing changes similar to those in the early stages of heart failure.

The researchers, led from Queen Mary University of London, said their study found a demonstrable and clear link between higher pollution level exposure and larger right and left ventricles - the chambers in the heart that pump blood round the body. The study of 4,000 people found that those who lived by roads with high traffic and noise levels had larger hearts than those living in less-polluted areas, despite the fact that those included in the study were exposed to pollution levels below UK guidelines, suggesting that even relatively low levels may be harmful to health.

According to researchers, the heart enlarged by approximately 1% for every extra microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5 (small air pollution particles), and for every 10 extra micrograms per cubic metre of nitrogen dioxide.

Although the changes observed in the heart were relatively small and potentially reversible, they were, the researchers said, comparable to being completely inactive or having elevated blood pressure, and they called on the government to reduce air pollution more quickly.

[edit] Find out more

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.

[edit] External references