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Air pollution reduced by more than half in our districts as walking and cycling increases

Released on June 5, 2020

Today (5 June) is World Environment Day and South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have announced that following lockdown there has been a marked reduction in air pollution in our districts – down by nearly 60 per cent in one location. The lack of traffic and the increase in walking and cycling has helped improve the local air quality across southern Oxfordshire.

The councils’ Environmental Protection team has been busy monitoring the effect of the lockdown and the accompanying lack of traffic on the levels of pollution, focussing on the areas designated as Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs)*.

There has been a marked reduction (see graphs and tables below) in Nitrogen Dioxides (NO2) in our air. NO2 is created by the burning of fuel from our cars and can be the cause of breathing difficulties, especially for those with existing respiratory conditions such as asthma. It can also contribute toward a number of other negative impacts on our health.

The councils monitor the air quality using a mixture of static automatic analysers and diffusion tubes**. Static analysers are fixed next to the roadside, they monitor the air quality and send data analysis every minute to the Oxfordshire Air Quality website.

The councils have four static automatic analysers. They are in

  • Duke Street, Henley
  • High Street, Wallingford
  • Couching Street in Watlington
  • Stert Street in Abingdon

The graphs above show the concentration of NO2 in the air (the number of micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air).  They also show the difference in the air quality in 2020 (with pollution levels decreasing during the months of lockdown) compared with the same time last year. The actual figures are shown in the table below.

 *Some of the data showed in this table has not yet been ratified and could be subject to minor changes.

There are also 135 diffusion tubes which measure air quality across the districts.

The analysis of the diffusion tubes can only be reported on an annual basis, but it is anticipated they will show a reduction in nitrogen dioxide for 2020 over the wider districts.

In addition to this, the councils’ Active Communities team are working with partners to increase cycling and walking throughout the districts.

Last month the government promised to fund and work with local authorities across the country to help increase walking and double the amount of cycling by 2025. More here

South Oxfordshire District Council Cabinet member for housing and the environment, Cllr David Rouane said, “We have always suspected that traffic is the main contributor to air pollution in certain areas of our districts and now this reduction in traffic followed by the marked reduction in air pollution seems to bear this out. It is important we act on this information to ensure this improvement in our air quality continues and is not just during lockdown.”

Vale of White Horse District Council Cabinet member for housing and the environment, Cllr Jenny Hannaby, said: “During the past months many people have discovered (or re-discovered) walking and cycling and the benefits it brings both the environment and our health. I will be urging the county council to make the most of the money they are getting from the Government to improve road safety so that people feel able to continue walking and cycling.”

Notes to editors

*There are six AQMAs in southern Oxfordshire

South – Henley, Wallingford and Watlington

Vale – Abingdon, Botley and Marcham

**Diffusion tubes (8cm long plastic tubes that attach to lamp posts)- are widely used for monitoring of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). They give an indication of longer-term annual average NO2 concentrations, can highlight areas of high NO2 concentration and can also be used where installation of an automatic static analyser is not feasible.