Tackling the Deadly Crisis of Air Quality

Is air quality an environmental issue?

Air quality is often seen as an environmental issue, but it has far-reaching and profound consequences to health, socio-economic issues and nature.   Over the last few months, we have seen increasing profile on air quality with the introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone in London. There are also plans for other cities including Aberdeen, Birmingham, Dundee, Edinburgh, Leeds, Oxford and York to have zones in place by the end of 2020.

The new figures on air quality

New figures show that poor air quality is now responsible for just as many deaths as tobacco. 64,000 deaths are directly related to poor air quality, with a further 29,000 linked to air pollution which exacerbates other conditions such as cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease. That’s approximately 8% of all deaths in the UK. In addition, one in five new cases of child asthma in the UK is linked to traffic fumes and other pollution.

Poor air quality also disproportionately affects some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our communities and costs society a phenomenal amount. The Environmental Audit Committee estimates the cost of air pollution could be up to £20 billion per annum – 1.7% of healthcare spending. That’s 20 times the annual capital investment in schools.

Does the built environment understand what role it plays in ensuring clean air for all?

My first job was working at the Building Research Establishment researching the relationship between outdoor air quality, ventilation systems and indoor air quality. Even back then the issue of air quality was considered an issue. Despite this and 20 years on, does the built environment understand what role it plays in ensuring clean air for all?

The built environment sector both in terms of what we build and how we build is a big part of the problem, and the solution. Buildings for instance contribute 38% of NOx emissions and the way we build using non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) contributes 7% of NOx, 8% of the PM10 and 14.5% of the PM2.5 emissions. Companies from across the sector are starting to respond to this far reaching issue to reduce the emissions from their sites. Network Rail for instance recently achieved a 97% diesel free project.

What can companies in the sector do to improve the air quality?

To improve the air quality of sites:

  • Greater London development already have to comply with GLA’s 2014 Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) ‘The control of dust and emissions during construction and demolition’. Companies can adopt the Planning Guidance for all developments across the UK and not just in London.
  • Use cleaner fuels on site – hybrid generators, ultra-low sulphur diesel, biodiesel are just some things.
  • Consider on site renewables and battery technologies.
  • Ensure all vans and vehicles used by the company go above the emissions standards etc.
  • Use electric vehicles where possible.
  • Monitor dust and emissions on your projects.
  • Develop a code of construction practice outlining your standards around deliveries, vehicle and workforce management.
  • Seek alternative ways to deliver materials or off-site logistics hubs to reduce the number of deliveries.

World Environment Day

On 5th June we celebrate World Environment Day and this year the theme is air quality. By changing our everyday lives we can reduce the amount of air pollution produced.  The construction industry can make a collective commitment to ensure we all breathe cleaner air today and in the future. A commitment which includes clients, contractors, suppliers and distributors. We shouldn’t have to wait for policy to drive our actions. Companies should be bold and set firm commitments to change. After all it’s our future and the future of the next generation we need to protect. #beatairpollution

For more information on environmental issues and best practice please check out the CIP Environmental Manual.