'We should all take air pollution into account when travelling'

 Air quality monitor URC Pond Square

Air quality monitor near the United Reformed Church, Pond Square - Credit: William Britain

Air quality sensors in Camden will help us to understand more about air particles and pollution where we live and work. 

Air pollution is the fourth biggest risk factor for early deaths worldwide. Even a modest annual estimate of 6.7 million deaths is greater than those from Covid in the whole two years of the pandemic.   

In London, estimates of premature deaths from air pollution vary between 4,000 and 8,000 a year. In 2020, Ella Kissi-Debrah, living near the South Circular and severely asthmatic, was found to have died from air pollution. Her mother’s campaign for cleaner air in London is well known. The air you breathe is usually above the WHO safe level and harms everyone, not just those with asthma.  

Francis Wilkinson, Highgate Society

Francis Wilkinson explains how Camden residents can monitor the air quality around them - Credit: Highgate Society

In 2001, due to dangerous levels of particulates in the air, Camden designated the whole borough an "air quality management area". So, what are the risks for you where you live, work and travel, and what can you do to reduce these risks?   

Camden residents will soon have the means to make such decisions. The Camden Clean Air Initiative has put up 250 air quality sensors in streets across the borough. Such a dense network is a world first. These will provide real-time information about air quality with data from all sensors available on your smartphone, so that you can decide which route to take to avoid the worst pollution. 

How might this help? On March 16 sand arrived in London from the Sahara. That sand included a lot of tiny particles which perhaps increased pollution levels by four or five times above the norm near your home. If you were thinking of going for a walk that day, then the information provided by the Camden Clean Air sensors might have changed your mind. And air pollution varies significantly from day to day – even without Saharan sand – on a bad day levels can be double or even triple those on a good day.  

Airscape on mobile and Mac

Readings from the Airscape monitors can be viewed on laptops and mobile phones - Credit: AirLabs

Pollution is worse near busy routes, congested roads and on hilly ascents, like many round Hampstead and Highgate, where engines must work harder, increasing vehicle emissions. These sensors should help you decide which route will avoid the most polluted roads.  

The Highgate Society has invited Georgina McGivern of Camden’s Clean Air initiative and Marc Ottolini of Airlabs, who provided the sensors, to speak at a free event open to all and also available online on April 20 at 7pm: highgatesociety.com/camden-clean-air-initiative/    

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Francis Wilkinson is secretary of the Highgate Society and lead on air pollution.