Clean Air Day 2022

This year’s Clean Air Day is taking place today, Thursday 16th June 2022.

Now in it’s sixth year, Clean Air Day is organised by the Global Action Plan charity and is the UK’s largest air pollution campaign, with the goal of bringing together businesses, the health sector, communities and schools to raise awareness of air pollution and find practical solutions to this global issue.

This year’s theme is based around the impact of air pollution on health, with the tagline “Air pollution dirties every organ in your body. Take steps to improve your health this Clean Air Day.”

Air pollution is considered by many to be the world’s largest environmental health threat and it is easy to see why. All of the most common air pollutants, including nitrous and sulphur oxides and particulate matter, can have a severe impact on our physical health.

These harmful pollutants can have a wide range of effects from coughing and breathing difficulties to reduced lung function, heart and lung disease as well as dementia and strokes. Exposure to air pollution can also aggravate pre-existing conditions such as asthma. Studies have shown that long-term exposure to air pollution reduces life expectancy, largely due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer. Whilst the more vulnerable members of our community are at increased risk of these harmful effects, air pollution has the capacity to harm all of us. Public Health England estimates that long-term exposure to air pollution has an effect which is equivalent to 28,000 – 36,000 deaths annually, clearly showing the need for action.

This year, the Clean Air Day campaign is promoting three key actions:

  • Talking to someone about the harms of air pollution
  • Walking those short distance trips and leaving the car at home, where you can
  • Asking local and national decision makers for what would make it easier for you to walk more and have clean air in your community.

These are three things everyone can do to make a difference this Clean Air Day.

Education is a key part of Clean Air Day and Global Action Plan’s Clean Air Hub is great place to increase your understanding of air pollution, as well as the Clean Air Calculator to see how you can reduce your personal contribution air pollution. Further educational resources are also available from Public Health England and the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs.

A great way to take part in Clean Air Day is to make a pledge to take action such as walking or cycling to work or school on the day, pledge cards are available on the Clean Air Day website and you are encouraged to share your pledge on social media using the hashtag #CleanAirDay.

Following the recent launch of our air quality solution, we are excited to be involved in this day of awareness, keep an eye on our social channels for more content throughout the day!

Understanding Air Pollutants: A Guide to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

‘Volatile organic compounds and ‘VOCs’, like particulate matter, does not refer to one specific substance. VOCs are a group of substances that display similar chemical properties, emitted from a variety of solids and liquids. VOC concentrations tend to be higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors, but are of concern wherever they are emitted due to their potential to have negative impacts on health.

Sources

VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products, from household products, to paints, varnishes and wax which all contain organic solvents, and many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing and hobby materials. VOCs are often harder to trace than other forms of air pollutants because they may not have an odour, and can come from so many different sources.

Building materials utilised in the construction sector are known to emit VOCs. Wood panels and a range of building materials give off these toxic compounds which remain in the air as pollution. Commonly harmful substances emitted in the building sector include formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, phenol, glycol ethers and methylene chloride. These sources tend to be categorised within solid building materials and liquid building materials.

Environmental Impact

VOCs can react with nitrogen oxides (NOx) to form ground level ozone, which directly contributes to climate change and global warming and can cause slowed growth rate in plants, trees and crops as well as other significant impacts on ecosystems and wildlife.

Health Impact

The health impact of volatile organic compounds are specifically concerning because they tend to be chronically, rather than acutely, toxic and so their effects can be hidden until some time after exposure. A particularly damaging VOC is benzene, with adverse health effects including anaemia and leukaemia. It is commonly found in the manufacture of many man-made compounds, like some rubbers, dyes and detergents and is therefore even more hazardous because of its regular usage.

The effects of most low-level VOC exposure are frequently not felt for many months or years. Exposure through inhalation poses the most risk, as the vapour is able to pass through the thin membrane of the lungs directly into the bloodstream. The results can range from irritation of the respiratory tract to damage of the nervous system and cancer.

Long-term neurological symptoms from exposure to VOCs can include impaired memory, reaction times, balance and hand-eye coordination, mood disorders (presenting as depression, irritability, and fatigue) can also be common.

Sensit by Crowcon SPOD

The Sensit by Crowcon SPOD emissions monitor offers real-time continuous monitoring and direct-reading, without laboratory analysis, at a lower cost than traditional methods. The SPOD platform combines wind and air pollutant concentration measurements to detect VOC emission plumes and help locate the source of emissions. By receiving accurate VOC emissions data, users are equipped with the information to take necessary action to reduce their impact. The product also allows for real-time continuous monitoring, and features solar charging and global cellular integration for remote operation.

Oxford becomes first UK city to implement a ‘Zero Emissions Zone (ZEZ)’

As part of its air quality plan, the UK government has identified ‘Low Emissions Zones (LEZs)’ as a way for local authorities to reduce air pollution in specific areas. The London LEZ, introduced in 2008, was the first of its kind in the UK. Fourteen years later, many more cities across the UK have implemented LEZs and ‘Clean Air Zones’ to combat emissions, including Glasgow, Birmingham and Bath.

Whilst many cities are now operating low emissions zones, in February 2022, Oxford became the first UK city to implement a ‘Zero Emissions Zone (ZEZs)’. In the new ZEZ, only vehicles which do not emit any harmful pollutants can enter without incurring charges. All petrol and diesel vehicles, including hybrids, will incur a daily charge unless eligible for a discount or exemption.

The idea of a zero-emissions zone for Oxford was first identified in 2015 as part of the Oxfordshire Local Transport Plan. Following extensive consultations and revised proposals in the following seven years, the pilot phase of the ZEZ started on 28th February this year.

Emissions from vehicles are currently one of Oxford’s most significant air pollution causes, accounting for 17 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the city. Steps that have already been taken to combat this include a LEZ for buses introduced in 2014, and it is hoped that the new ZEZ and its future expansion will further reduce air pollution levels. Not just limited to Oxford, vehicle emissions are a major nationwide issue, responsible for 33% of the emissions of nitrogen oxides in the UK in 2019.

The current ZEZ consists of a small area right in the heart of Oxford city centre, with this small pilot designed to allow the local authorities to gain useful insights and test how the scheme works before expanding the area covered by the ZEZ.

The second phase of the ZEZ is planned to be implemented next year and will cover the majority of Oxford city centre. A series of further expansions and increased restrictions are planned to achieve a city-wide ZEZ by 2035.

It is hoped that the zero-emissions zone will encourage road users to switch to low and zero-emissions vehicles and make other positive changes to their travel behaviour.

Campaign manager at Asthma + Lung UK, Tim Dexter, described the implementation of a ZEZ as a “watershed moment for tackling air pollution, setting the level of ambition other local authorities should be aiming for in dealing with the UK’s toxic air crisis”.

Sensit by Crowcon RAMP and SPOD

The Sensit by Crowcon RAMP provides a solution for monitoring up to five gaseous pollutants and particulate matter in a robust, remote, and reliable way. For monitoring volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the SPOD is a solution that is optimised for real-time direct reading for localised emissions. Both devices can provide meaningful data on pollution levels and aid in identifying ‘pollution hotspots’ being caused by vehicle emissions, allowing the correct measures to be taken based on facts and data.

To find out more, visit https://www.crowcon.com/air-quality/

Understanding Air Pollutants: A Guide to Carbon Monoxide (CO)

What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, colourless, and tasteless but dangerous gas that primarily contributes to air pollution. The gas is made up of carbon and oxygen and is highly toxic, capable of causing acute illness and death in the most severe cases.

Sources

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is formed when materials don’t burn completely; this can occur with the burning of fossil fuels like natural gas, petrol, coal and oil, wood smoke, from car and truck exhausts, as well as through faulty gas heaters, BBQs, ovens, and cooktops.

Carbon monoxide is a significant element of exhaust fumes from road vehicles. These emissions are a source of CO and industrial processes such as petroleum refining, oil and gas extraction, and chemical production.

Common outdoor objects using hydrocarbons as a fuel can also be a source of CO emissions, including some power tools, lawnmowers, generators and open fires.

In the working environment, machinery such as propane-powered forklifts, pressure washers and gas-powered concrete cutters can contribute to the build-up of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere.

Environmental Impact

CO is itself a greenhouse gas. When CO is emitted into the atmosphere, it adds to the amount of greenhouse gases generated, which directly impacts global warming and climate change. As it is a relatively unreactive compound, it does not pose a significant threat to plant life. However, it can be quite harmful to oxygen transport systems in humans and other animals.

Health Impact

If inhaled, CO attaches to the haemoglobin in red blood cells, which generally carry oxygen throughout the body. When CO attaches, it “uses up” the oxygen-carrying capacity of the red blood cell and thus blocks the transport of oxygen the body needs, ultimately causing a wide range of health problems.

Inhaling low levels of carbon monoxide can lead to symptoms including nausea, confusion and disorientation, dizziness and headaches. Regularly breathing at low levels can lead to permanent mental or physical problems.

Very high levels of CO can lead to more severe consequences, including unconsciousness and death. There are around 60 deaths from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in England and Wales each year. Whilst extreme levels of CO are uncommon outdoors; there is a particular concern for people with pre-existing conditions where the heart needs more oxygen than usual when outdoor levels of carbon monoxide are elevated. The greatest risks are indoors or within tents where CO from burning hydrocarbons can build up.

Sensit by Crowcon RAMP

The Sensit RAMP is a robust, remote and reliable low-cost air quality monitoring platform. The device is capable of monitoring up to five gaseous chemical pollutants including carbon monoxide. The device uses a laser scattering detection method to detect both PM2.5 and PM10 with a range of 1-1000 μg/m3.

The RAMP is suitable for use in a variety of industries including construction, transport, waste, oil and gas, chemical and petrochemical industries.

Understanding Air Pollutants: A Guide to Ozone (O3)

What is Ozone (O3)

Ozone (O3 ) is a highly reactive gas composed of three oxygen atoms. It is both a natural and a man-made product that occurs in both the Earth’s upper (stratosphere), and lower (troposphere) atmosphere. Depending on where it is in the atmosphere, ozone can affect life on Earth in both beneficial and non-beneficial ways. Many people will be familiar with the ozone layer which is naturally occurring in the upper atmosphere and forms a protective layer from the suns rays. The less widely known form of ozone (sometimes referred to as tropospheric ozone) occurs in the lower atmosphere and is one of the most common pollutants impacting the quality of our air.

Sources

In contrast to many air pollutants, almost no ozone is directly caused by human activity. Instead, the ozone is formed in the air where high concentrations of energy interact with oxygen molecules. This can be high energy photons from the sun interacting high up in Earths stratosphere, or lightning in Earth’s lower atmosphere, or from reactions between other pollutants in sunlight. Tropospheric ozone is formed where concentrations of those pollutants are greatest, as sunlight causes reactions between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – often near cities and industrial areas. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are generated in a variety of ways, and are often associated with the oil refining and petrochemical industries, whilst nitrogen oxides (NOx) originate from the combustion of fossil fuels in stationary sources, such as heating and power generation, as well as in motor vehicles.

Environmental Impact

Ozone itself is a greenhouse gas. As such, increasing concentrations of ground-level ozone contributes directly to global warming, and is significant as one of the pollutants causing the increase in the overall average temperature of earth’s atmosphere. Ozone is also generally an ingredient in the ‘smog’ which forms over large cities.

Tropospheric ozone has a significant impact on ecosystems, wildlife and plants. It can cause plants, trees and crops to suffer from slowed growth rate and has the potential to cause mass die-off in crops. Tropospheric ozone pollution is often seen to be an urban issue as it is in these areas where it is primarily formed. However, ozone also finds its way to more rural areas, potentially being carried hundreds of miles by wind or forming as a result of other sources of air pollution in these areas.

Health Impact

High levels of ozone gas can cause irritation and inflammation of the lungs, as well as irritate the eyes, nose and throat which can lead to persistent coughing and chest discomfort. This is of particular concern for asthmatic individuals, as ozone pollution episodes can increase breathing difficulties. Studies across Europe, Asia and North America have repeatedly found that risk of premature death increases with higher levels of ozone pollution.

Depending on level of exposure, ozone can cause coughing and sore throats, inflame and damage airways, aggravate existing conditions such as asthma and make the lungs more susceptible to infection.

Sensit by Crowcon RAMP

The Sensit RAMP is a robust, remote and reliable low-cost air quality monitoring platform. The device is capable of monitoring up to five gaseous chemical pollutants. The device uses a laser scattering detection method to detect both PM2.5 and PM10 with a range of 1-1000 μg/m3.

The RAMP is suitable for use in a variety of industries including construction, transport, waste, oil and gas, chemical and petrochemical industries.

Understanding Air Pollutants: A Guide to Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)

What are Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)

Nitrogen oxides (NOx) are some of the most common air pollutants alongside carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and sulphur oxides (SOx).

NOx are poisonous gases derived from nitrogen and oxygen combustion under high pressure and temperatures. The two most common nitrous oxides are nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). NOx can react with volatile organic compounds to form ground-level ozone and also reacts with atmospheric chemicals, producing PM2.5.

Sources

A major source of anthropogenic emissions of nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, originates from the combustion of fossil fuels in stationary sources, such as heating and power generation, as well as in motor vehicles, such as internal combustion engines. According to figures from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), road transport accounted for 33% of the emissions of nitrogen oxides in the UK in 2019, and other forms of transport such as aviation, rail, and shipping accounted for 14%. Whilst road transport does account for a third of NOx emissions, there has been a downward trend in emissions as newer vehicles meet more strict emissions standards.

Key industries which generate NOx through their activities are the energy, manufacturing and construction industries. The London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (LAEI) found that NOx generated from construction accounts for 7.5% of all NOx emissions in the capital.

Environmental Impact

Rapid industrial development in the past 30 years has led to an increase in ambient levels of NOx and other pollutants. The impact of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), is visible within the smog and typical brown clouds often covering larger cities, which provide poor air quality for the inhabitants. It can also lead to poor visibility, with nitrate particles making the air foggy. NOx emissions also contribute to the creation of acid rain and the formation of ground-level ozone that can damage ecosystems, animal and plant life.

Health Impact

There are both direct and indirect effects on human health as a result of NOx exposure.

High levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) can be specifically dangerous as they inflame the lining of your airways, and cause a flare-up of asthma or COPD, alongside symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing. Those most likely to be affected by these side effects, according to statistics from the British Lung Foundation, include children and older people.

The health effects of NOx become more severe with exposure to higher concentrations or longer term exposure. Prolonged exposure to high levels of NOx has the potential to increase vulnerability to respiratory infections, lead to decreased lung function and contribute to the development of asthma.

Whilst the effects are heightened with longer term and higher levels of exposure, particularly to children, for older people and those with pre-existing conditions, even short term exposure can cause symptoms such as irritation of the lungs in otherwise healthy people.

NOx exposure also has an impact on mortality, with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs estimating in 2015 that the effects of NO2 on mortality were equivalent to 23,500 deaths in the UK annually.

How Can NOx Be Measured

Nitrogen oxides can be measured through a process known as ‘chemiluminescence’ which is a chemical reaction emitting energy in the form of light. There are over 200 monitoring sites throughout the UK using chemiluminescence analysers.

The largest monitoring network in the UK is the Automatic Urban and Rural Network (AURN), with 127 sites across the country. The AURN is the main hub in the country for compliance reporting against the Ambient Air Quality Directives.

Nitrogen oxides can also be accurately measured in low concentrations using electrochemical sensors – often preferred over alternative methods due to their robustness.

Sensit by Crowcon RAMP

The RAMP is a robust, remote and reliable low-cost air quality monitoring platform. The device is capable of monitoring up to five gaseous chemical pollutants and the electrochemical sensors offer PPB, parts per billion, resolution for both NO and NO2 along with other common air pollutants.

The RAMP is suitable for use in a variety of industries including construction, transport, waste, oil and gas, chemical and petrochemical industries.