Air Pollution in Outer London

On the 20th October, my local M.P. Bob Neill issued this tweet: “In the House of Commons pressing ministers on air quality targets in the Environment Bill again this afternoon. We need to make real progress on particulate pollution now, not just in city centres but in suburban areas like Bromley & Chislehurst too”. You can see his speech and the minister’s response here: https://twitter.com/neill_bob/status/1450832879798439941 .

He expressed concern about particulate pollution specifically in “hot spots” and asked for a hot spot policy. My response was “I’m not convinced that particulates are a problem in Bromley, at hotspots or anywhere else. Seems you have been listening to the eco-fanatics” and “Bromley meets all the national standards for particulates. See the councils air quality action plan….”. It generated a number of comments from other contributors including a claim that only one location is monitored in Bromley (only true for particulates as there are 10 locations for NO2 monitors which provide good measures of air pollution).

You can read the latest Bromley Air Quality Annual Status Report published in July here: https://www.bromley.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/6833/air_quality_annual_status_report_2020.pdf . The report makes it clear that for both particulates and NO2 the pollution is within national standards. It is also clear that pollution levels have been falling substantially in recent years.

Further responses were received from members of an organisation called Fresh Air Bromley (see https://freshairbromley.org.uk/ ) which apparently is a spin-off from the LibDem Party in Bromley. They have installed a number of particulate monitors (both PM2.5 and PM10) in Bromley and published the data on their web site. The reported figures are all very low apart from at Harwood Avenue (the Council’s own monitoring location) but even there the numbers are within national standards.

This data does not show there is a significant particulate problem in Bromley which is no doubt why they say this on their web site: “We are looking for people to host an air pollution monitor! We are especially looking for hosts who live near possible air pollution hot spots (traffic junctions, schools, etc.)”.

This work is a useful contribution to the air quality issue. But does it demonstrate a major “hot spot” problem? I do not believe it does. I am not saying that there are not locations in Bromley where air pollution is a concern – mainly where there is heavy traffic such as on Widmore/Tweedy Road (photo above). Exposure to high pollution levels may be limited though as the duration of exposure of vehicle users or pedestrians is limited and such roads are not generally residential streets (with a few exceptions).

Car exhausts are being cleaned up by legislation although that may still leave a problem with brake and tire wear. But the big culprits are HGVs and buses and the emissions from vehicles at congestion hot spots. Remove the congestion and air pollution will improve.

Fresh Air Bromley have not demonstrated that existing pollution levels are a major health hazard. As regards particulates, a large proportion of particulates blow in from outside Bromley, or even outside London. Some of it comes from natural sources such as dust storms and agriculture. You also have to bear in mind that particulates are generated in the home from such activities as cooking and from open fires – particularly the modern fashion for wood burning stoves. Historically people have lived with high levels of particulate pollution for thousands of years.

I covered air pollution in another outer London borough (Lewisham) in a previous blog post – see https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/09/11/air-quality-in-lewisham/ . It references the Government’s COMEAP reports on the medical effects of air pollution and an FFDF publication on “Air Quality and Vehicles”.

In conclusion, is air pollution a significant problem in outer London boroughs such as Bromley? The answer is surely NO.

Roger Lawson

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