Geography, Earth and environment at Brighton

It’s time to take air pollution seriously

The air monitoring station (LtoR) Kevin Wyche Kirsty Smallbone Keith Taylor and Debra Humphris

Our Vice-Chancellor has called on the Government to take more notice of evidence pointing to an air pollution crisis facing the planet.
Professor Debra Humphris was commenting after scientists from our school presented new research showing how society was facing a “public health timebomb”.
They told how air pollution is linked to 50,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, 9,400 in London and 430,000 in the EU as a whole, through heart disease, asthma, and even dementia.
Lead researchers, Dr Kirsty Smallbone, Head of the School of Environment and Technology, and lecturer Dr Kevin Wyche, are studying ultra-fine particles which can pass through the lung alveoli and contaminate organs including the brain.
Their data comes from the university’s state-of-the-art £250,000 advanced air pollution monitoring station based at its campus in Falmer and funded by the EU’s Interreg IVB NWE programme and the University of Brighton as part of the Joint Air Quality Initiative (JOAQUIN, www.cleanerairbetterhealth).
Professor Humphris was joined by Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East, who described the lack of action on air pollution as a national scandal.
Professor Humphris said: “We have the only air quality monitoring station of its kind in the UK that is addressing an incredibly important global issue, and we must act on this data.
“As a university committed to sustainability and doing what we can for the community, we will work to highlight the evidence to the Government in the hope it will take the issue of air quality seriously.”
Professor Humphris added: “The rigorousness of the collection and analysis of data by Kirsty and Kevin is outstanding.”
Dr Smallbone said air pollution was now one of the greatest threats to global society, and the UK lies within a pollution hot spot.
Dr Wyche called it a public health timebomb. He pointed to graphs showing predictable increases in air pollution at peak times but an unexpected rise in ultra-fine pollutants during afternoons and in hot weather, pollutants that were being transformed or “grown” from gases.
Dr Wyche said: “We need to know more about the mechanism behind this. We really are at the beginning of what will be a very long project.”
Dr Smallbone said the Government did not have a good track record and pointed to delays in the publication of the latest Air Quality Strategy for consultation. Meanwhile, she said, the university was taking action, speaking to industry on new air filters for buildings and taking their research to schools. And they are now looking into establishing an Education Centre at the university to inform young children.
Keith Taylor said he was “bowled over” by the research and criticised the Government as “totally hopeless” in bringing down pollution to permitted levels: “I don’t think the political will exists to tackle this problem and I don’t understand why – you’d think there would be a lot of votes to be had in saving people’s lives.”
For more information on the university’s environment research go to:

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Stephanie Thomson • July 19, 2017

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