The tragic case of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah highlights the urgent need for better air pollution monitoring in the UK.
Since Ella’s death in 2013, there have been some improvements in air pollution monitoring in the UK. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) now has 555 sites across the country that monitor air pollution, an increase from 424 in 2020. These monitoring sites measure pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxide (NO), and PM2.5 and PM10.
However, despite these improvements, there are still significant limitations in the current air quality monitoring systems. According to Professor Alastair Lewis, a chair of the independent advisory Air Quality Expert Group, there are only a few state-of-the-art monitoring stations in the UK that can identify the constituents of PM2.5, which is the pollutant that causes the most economic damage to health at a population level. This means that the current monitoring systems do not provide a comprehensive understanding of the composition of PM2.5, including volatile organic compounds from sources such as glues or paints.
To address these limitations, Defra has announced plans to invest over £10 million to expand the fine particulate matter (PM2.5) monitoring network. This expansion aims to support the development of further policy interventions to tackle PM2.5 and meet new targets set under the Environment Act.
Accurate and real-time data from air quality monitors is crucial for individuals, especially those with lung conditions like asthma, to make informed decisions about their daily activities. For example, having access to live data can enable people to change their walking routes or adjust the time they leave their houses to avoid areas with high levels of air pollution.
In conclusion, while there have been some improvements in air pollution monitoring in the UK, there is still a long way to go. The expansion of the monitoring network and the development of more sophisticated monitoring systems are necessary to provide a comprehensive understanding of air pollution and its impact on public health. Only by having accurate and detailed data can effective policies and interventions be implemented to tackle this invisible killer.