New website tracks Oxford’s air pollution

Oxford_Bus_Company_908A new website has launched which allows users to see real-time information about air quality. The site, funded by a £20,000 grant from DEFRA, provides an easy interface tool to help people become more aware of air pollution in the area, and further aims to foster understanding about ways to cut down on emissions.

Councillor John Tanner, Oxford City Council City Executive Board Member for Cleaner, Greener Oxford, said: ‘Not only does the new website provide crucial data for those suffering respiratory conditions, it also shows all residents why it is so important that they take action to reduce their own impact on our air quality.’

The link between airborne pollutants and a range of health complications has long been appreciated, and current research has emphasised the importance of clean air for healthy urban populations. According to DEFRA, particulates alone reduce the average life expectancy in the UK by approximately six months, while the World Health Organisation values the cost of pollution to the economy at around £54 billion. These sobering statistics along with obligations at national and international levels have pushed Oxford City Council to enact various measures to raise people’s awareness and tackle pollution directly.

One of the functions of the new website is a tool to discover the past trends in pollution levels at many different locations in the city centre and further afield. The graphs shown are typically reassuring; downward trends for the past few years suggest that something has been at work to clean up Oxford’s air. One possible explanation could be measures put in place by the council to reduce emissions from inefficient vehicles in the city centre – a strategy which has recently won the prize for ‘Local Air Quality Initiative of the Year’ in the National Air Quality Awards.

A ‘Low Emission Zone’ has been in place since the beginning of 2014, and covers most important routes through the city as far as Botley to the east and Cowley to the west. Focussing mainly on public buses which make up a substantial amount of central Oxford’s traffic, the scheme requires the engines of vehicles to meet stringent emissions criteria. Specifically, the measure aims to reduce the concentration of nitrous oxides in the air – a family of gases which can lead to lung disease with particularly adverse effects on asthmatics, and contribute to acid rain.

Today, many of the buses you see in the city centre run on hybrid engine technology. By using the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) developed by Formula One engineers, buses like the BROOKESbus save kinetic energy when they brake, and use this normally wasted energy to get back up to speed. The Oxford Bus Company claim to be able to reduce their fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by up to 39%, contributing to Oxford’s cleaner atmosphere.

The City Council has also been investing in cycling, having made some £250,000 worth of improvements to the cycle network since 2013, and is now working to encourage the use of electric vehicles to tackle pollution and CO2 emissions further still.

To visit the website for yourself and find out pollution levels where you are, go to www.oxfordshire.air-quality.info.

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