Air Quality

Air pollution is a major public health issue, contributing towards thousands of deaths each year.

Air pollution is made up of particles and gases, which include:
  • Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), produced with nitric oxide (NO), together referred to as oxides of nitrogen (NOx)
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs)
  • Ammonia (NH3)
  • Ozone (O3)
What causes air pollution?

Air quality is affected by many sources. In urban areas the main sources are from road transport and the burning of solid fuels (coal and wood), where as in rural areas, agriculture and upwind industry are greater contributors. Other sources include aircraft, construction sites, industry, shipping, bonfires and fireworks, as well as transboundary sources from other areas or even countries.

The picture below shows the main sources and pollutants.
Health effects of air pollution

The main sources vary for each component, PM and NO2 are the most harmful to health. Generally for those in good health, short term, moderate exposure should not give any serious short term effects. High levels or long term exposure can lead to worsening of existing conditions or development of new cardiovascular/respiratory conditions. Find out more about protecting your health.

In 2010 the Department of Health’s Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollutants estimated the burden of PM in the UK was equivalent to nearly 29,000 deaths in 2008, 25,000 of which were in England. Defra estimate the burden of NO2 is equivalent to nearly 23,500 deaths per year in the UK. It is likely there is some overlap between the pollutants so it is not possible to estimate the total health burden.

The Public Health Outcomes Framework indicates 5% of West Berkshire deaths in 2016, were attributed to long-term exposure to PM2.5. The national average is 5.3% in England and 5.5% for the south east region. PM2.5 is likely to contribute partially to a greater number of deaths, rather than contribute directly.