How's the Hampstead air? Volunteers begin pollution testing

A testing site in South End Green

A testing site in South End Green - Credit: Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum

A community group has begun testing air quality to analyse current pollution levels around Hampstead compared to six years ago.

The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum installed its first diffusion tubes on September 27 to gather new data on levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 10 locations.

Results will be monitored over the next 12 months by a team of around 25 volunteers – including local pupils – and then compared with a similar initiative of the Forum’s in 2015.

The neighbourhood group previously recorded levels of NO2 in Hampstead above the UK’s legal limit of 40 µg/m3, which it described as a “wake-up call”.

Francesca Agostini, who is leading this year’s project with Katharina Schauer, told the Ham&High: “This project is a way of re-engaging with the local community over pollution and to open up a discussion again.

Pupils including from Devonshire House are taking part in the scheme

Pupils including from Devonshire House are taking part in the scheme - Credit: Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum

“If we don’t measure air quality we don’t know exactly what we are talking about, we don't know the starting point and whether any measures are helpful or not.  

“So we feel it's really important that we have a clear picture of what the situation is now.” 

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The traffic in Hampstead has long been cited as a major contributor to the area’s pollution problems.  

The neighbourhood has the highest concentration of schools in Europe, but measures to tackle congestion and idling associated with the school run – for instance private bus runs – have failed to take off.

Francesca says NW3 needs a nuanced but coordinated plan informed by local data. 

“The problem with this area is finding some localised specific action that can work because it is a peculiar area,” she said. 

“It has this concentration of schools and the issue needs to be tackled from different sides. It’s not as easy as closing a street or taking away a few parking spots to make the traffic more fluid. 

“It requires a bit of thinking and coordinating with the schools and the residents and the parents’ community to make sure they're all part of the solution.”

Sanoop, one of the project's volunteers

Sanoop, one of the project's volunteers - Credit: Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum

The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum is working on the project with Green School Runs, the Heath and Hampstead Society, and Camden Council. 

Volunteers include pupils from Devonshire House, Maria Montessori School and UCS Junior Branch.  

The World Health Organization says that air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to human health.

The agency recently cut its recommended annual average limit for NO2 from 40 to 10 µg/m3. The UK’s threshold remains 40 µg/m3.