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New study reveals Cardiff’s clean air improvements

(Adobe Stock)

The latest study into air pollution in Cardiff shows that residents enjoyed cleaner air across the city throughout 2021 when compared with pre-pandemic figures in 2019, a new report has revealed.

The improvement in air quality during 2021 as reported in the Councils 2022 Annual Progress Report, was seen across the city and the data collected from monitoring stations showed that the council was compliant with all ‘limit vales’ for pollutants, which are set out in legislation.

Air quality is monitored on an annual basis across a full 12-month period to ensure figures are representative across a full year.

The improvement in air quality levels in 2019 seems to have a direct link to the number of vehicles on our roads. The latest figures show, on average, vehicle traffic is at 80% of pre-pandemic levels, with air pollution levels reducing by approximately 20% during the same period.

Poor air quality is considered to be the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, and after smoking, the second biggest threat to public health. There is clear evidence to show that exposure to air pollution reduces life expectancy and significantly increases the risk of mortality from heart disease, strokes, respiratory diseases, lung cancer and other conditions

Cllr Dan De’Ath, Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Transport said: “When comparing the data from 2019 to the data taken in 2021, the air quality levels have improved significantly from all the monitoring stations across the city, which is very encouraging. This points towards clean air improvements that benefit all our residents.

“The link to less traffic being on our roads is clear and it also backs the argument for changing the way we move around our city. If we want to improve everyone’s health, then one of the most effective ways we can do so is by changing the way we travel. Less reliance on the private car and switching to public transport or walking or cycling can make a massive difference to the air we breathe. It’s not only helping us to become healthier it’s also making an impact on climate change and it’s why this council has prioritised cycling, walking and public transport initiatives. In the end we all get to benefit from improved health and to live in a greener, cleaner and more sustainable city.”

In 2020 air quality improved markedly across the city. This was directly linked to lockdowns which saw traffic use across the city drop markedly.

The council is required to monitor air pollution levels of a variety of pollutants and this monitoring is carried out through automated and non-automated monitoring stations.

The automated monitoring stations record air quality levels for a number of pollutants twenty-four hours a day, seven days per week, whereby the non-automated monitoring sites use passive diffusion tubes to record monthly average figures of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2). The diffusion tubes are collected and analysed by a laboratory on a monthly basis to produce monthly average NO2figures which are then used to calculate the annual average.

In areas of the city where air pollution levels are a concern, as the air pollution levels have previously breached or are close to the legal requirements, Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA’s) are set up which requires the council to set out action plans on how to reduce the levels of pollution. A city-wide action plan was produced in 2018 as part of the Council’s Clean Air Plan.

Currently AQMA’s are in place in the City Centre (focussing on Westgate Street); Ely Bridge, Stephenson Court (off Newport Road), and in Llandaff.

The legal limit for NO2in Wales is an annual average concentration of 40 µg/m3and the results from the four AQMA’s in the city are as follows:

City Centre: The levels of NO2in the city centre have reduced significantly since 2019 but increased slightly compared with 2020 (when Castle Street was closed to traffic during the COVID recovery.) In 2019, data shows that the NO2level was 44µg/m3from two separate monitoring stations, which reduced to 23 µg/m3and 26µg/m3respectively in 2020. In 2021, data from the same monitoring stations showed an annual average of 26 µg/m3.

Stephenson Court: All three monitoring stations in this AQMA show compliance with the NO2requirements, with the annual average remaining under 30µg/m3from all three sites. The data in 2019 shows the average NO2reading at 35.7 µg/m3, reducing to 28.4µg/m3in 2020 and increasing slightly to 29.3 µg/m3in 2021.

Ely Bridge: Three monitoring sites are in place at this location and all three sites are compliant with the requirements for NO2. In 2019, the annual average from this location was 38.6µg/m3, reducing to 30.4µg/m3in 2020 and increasing slightly to 31.7 µg/m3in 2021.

Llandaff: All monitoring stations show that the limit vales for NOare compliant with the limit value set out in legislation. In 2019 the annual average showed the level at 41.3µg/m3, reducing to 33 µg/m3in 2020, but increasing to 37 µg/m3in 2021. The increase in the level from 2020 to 2021 reflects the increase in traffic volumes using this route, which is one of the main arterial routes into the city. The Council will ensure focussed monitoring Llandaff is maintained and enhanced in 2023.

The council also has automated monitoring equipment at four locations across the city, which measures NO2and PM2.5and PM10twenty-four hours a day. These are located at Fredrick Street (City Centre), Richards Terrace (Newport Road), Castle Street and Lakeside Primary School. All of the readings from these monitoring stations during 2021 are compliant with the legislation.

A further seven new real time monitoring stations have also been installed at Westgate Street, Lower Cathedral Road, Tudor Street, North Road, Penarth Road, Lansdowne Road and within the Llandaff AQMA. All of the data collected from these locations during 2021 are compliant with the legislation.

Diffusion Tube data is also collected from over 100 sites across Cardiff which includes monitoring outside a number of schools. Again, all the data from these monitoring stations are compliant with the statutory requirements.

Adopting a risk-based approach the council has also agreed to place an additional 47 indicative real-time air quality monitors across the city, with the location focusing on known areas of concern and where more vulnerable citizens may be exposed, including schools and health centres. These will be operational in early 2023.

The Local Air Quality Annual Monitoring report will be scrutinised by the Environmental Scrutiny Committee at 4.30pm on December 8th, ahead of the Cabinet Meeting on December 15th.