Leicester to pilot major study on local air pollution


LEICESTER is set to be one of the first cities in the UK to study and model locally-based fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) as part of a new project.

Earlier this year, the city council was awarded almost £250,000 of Government funding to carry out a pilot project to monitor and map the sources of the potentially harmful PM2.5 pollutant in Leicester.

PM2.5 refers to the tiny particles – less than 2.5micrometres in size – of dust, smoke, pollen and soot that are found in the air we breathe.

Exposure to PM2.5 at high levels, or over an extended period, has been linked to serious effects on health and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Although there are currently no agreed national guidelines for PM2.5 monitoring, the World Health Organisation recommends that levels should not exceed an annual average of 10micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3).

Local levels of PM2.5 are currently only recorded as an urban background level by one automatic monitoring site in the city, located at the University of Leicester.

The most recent recorded levels for annual mean were below 11µg/m3.

Leicester City Council is now working with Leicester-based air quality experts EarthSense to carry out a detailed citywide study of the local concentrations and sources of PM2.5 pollutants.

Cllr Adam Clarke, deputy city mayor and executive lead on environment and transportation, said: “We are now recording the lowest levels of nitrogen dioxide we’ve ever seen and are taking action to reduce it further.

“However, more needs to be done, particularly around understanding and managing the levels of PM2.5 in the city.

“There is currently no requirement to monitor for this pollutant, but we know that we have the skills and knowledge in the city to take a lead in better understanding PM2.5 and its risk to health.

“We are determined to continue to accelerate the improvements we have seen in recent years and achieve our aim of Healthier Air for Leicester.”

EarthSense is a local company, based at Leicester’s Pioneer Park, that specialises in the monitoring and modelling of air pollution and provides policy-makers and city planners with near real-time insight to support decision-making.

Tom Hall, EarthSense Managing Director, said: “As a Leicester-based air quality company, we are delighted to be working with the city council and offering local expertise for this study.

“Our Zephyr air quality sensors and MappAir modelling services, coupled with advanced analytics, will be used to provide clear insight into PM2.5 levels, which will be shared with residents and provide a clearer understanding of the sources of pollution.”

The pilot project will involve the use of eleven of the company’s Zephyr air quality sensors across the city.

Six of these will be placed within Leicester’s existing air quality management area – covering the city centre, main radial roads and outer ring – and one on the A6 on the outskirts of the city.

The remaining four sensors will be mounted on electric cars and bikes to provide mobile readings.

The data collected will help build a clearer picture of the sources of PM2.5 pollution and which parts of the city are most affected.

The study will also explore how emissions from of wood-burning stoves contribute to citywide pollution.

The final findings will include an interactive map that will provide near real-time local air quality updates, supported by the development of a new smartphone app to make it easy for people to access this this information.

In June 2018, the city council declared the whole of Leicester as a Smoke Control Area, under a new Smoke Control Order, to help limit pollution from smoky fuels like coal and wood.

Under the Clean Air Act 1993, emitting smoke from the chimney of a building in a Smoke Control Area can result a fine of up to £1,000.

This means that people should only use certified wood-burning stoves and burn authorised smokeless fuels.

Findings of the study are due to published in late-2020.