Call for more air quality monitors across Enfield

Local environmental group writes open letter calling for council to add to borough’s low number of diffusion tubes, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

A car exhaust
credit Matt Boitor via Unsplash

Efforts to combat pollution risk being set back because Enfield has one of the lowest numbers of air quality monitors in London, local environmental campaigners have warned.

Figures published by the Greater London Authority reveal diffusion tubes – used to measure levels nitrogen dioxide – were installed at just 21 sites in the borough as of 2021.

This was the fourth-lowest number of all 32 London boroughs, plus the City of London. The council says another site has since been added, and there are four “real-time” monitoring sites.

According to Enfield Climate Action Forum (Encaf), air pollution was the number one concern of most respondents to a survey it carried out in the borough last year.

Exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is formed from gases produced during the burning of fossil fuels, can damage the lungs and airways and has been linked to a range of respiratory conditions including asthma.

Encaf’s air pollution working group recently wrote an open letter to the council urging it to install diffusion tubes near every primary school in the borough, warning only three schools currently have the pollution monitors nearby.

The campaigners also want the council to commit to installing an automatic monitoring site for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which has been linked to heart and lung diseases. Their letter cites research by Imperial College London’s Environmental Research Group stating that PM2.5 accounts for “a substantial part of the health burden from air pollution”.

Currently, the council only monitors larger particulate matter, or PM10, at one site in the borough. According to the campaigners, it decommissioned a second PM10 monitor, which was located in Edmonton, in 2015.

Encaf’s air pollution working group says installing more monitors would help to gauge the effectiveness of measures introduced to tackle pollution. This would help to raise awareness, change attitudes among the public and attract funding for further initiatives.

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Campaigners also want the council to engage with residents, businesses and other organisations to inform them of the hazards of air pollution, the factors that cause it and what they can do to help.

Research by scientists at Imperial College London found that in 2019 toxic air contributed to the premature deaths of around 4,000 Londoners. Last year, a separate analysis by City Hall revealed more than 3,600 children were admitted to hospital with asthma in London during 2021/22 – up by 64% on the previous year.

The Encaf letter adds: “This study clearly demonstrates the pernicious effects of air pollution on the health of our children. It’s universally accepted, including by the UK government, that air pollution is a public health emergency, and urgent changes and measures are needed to deal with it, requiring collective action on many levels.”

Ergin Erbil, deputy leader of Enfield Council, said: “As set out in the council plan 2023-26, we are committed to a cleaner and greener Enfield. This includes tackling air pollution and reducing carbon emissions from our buildings, streetlights, fleet and the goods and services we procure.

“Air quality is monitored using diffusion tubes, sensors and real-time monitoring. The most common method is the use of nitrogen dioxide diffusion tubes, which is not as accurate as using real-time analysers.

“The council uses a mixture of these monitoring methods. There are four real-time sites in the borough and 22 nitrogen dioxide diffusion tube sites throughout Enfield, all of which monitor nitrogen dioxide, meaning we are well equipped to gather large amounts of data for the borough. We also have a similar number of real-time sites to our neighbours – Waltham Forest Council has three real-time sites, Barnet Council has two and Haringey Council has three.

“Our data gathered from the sites show that in 2022, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide did not exceed the legal limit anywhere in the borough, but we will continue to monitor and take action against pollution.”

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