Our Breathe in Brighton event on the 21st September, which we organised alongside Brighton Peace and Environmental Centre, was a great success. There was a large and diverse audience made up of members of the local community, local businesses including The Big Lemon and Brighton and Hove buses and charities such as Friends of the Earth, Sustrans and ONCA who came to support the issue of air pollution in Brighton. For those who did not attend the event and who want to know more about air quality and the potential solutions to tackling it in our cities, we are summarising the event in a three-part series. 

Brenda Pollack, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, facilitated the Event. She began by introducing the speakers and the organisers of the event, Argyll Environmental and Brighton Peace and Environment Centre and gave an overview of how important air quality is to both our health and the environment. 

Dr. Kevin Wyche was the first of the speakers to begin the event, and started by introducing the Air Environment Research (AER) monitoring station situated at Falmer Campus at the University of Brighton. Kevin is the principal investigator at this station where they analyse and record vast amounts of air quality data including NO2, O3, and particulate matter using a range of instruments and devices. This data is used to understand the fundamental physics and chemistry of the atmosphere and in turn create tools and devices to take this research and apply it to downstream applications, and inform and engage with the public. 

Dr. Wyche used a range of images acquired by NASA satellites on board the ORA platform, to highlight the current state of global air quality. Areas of high levels of nitrogen dioxide, a key indicator of poor air quality, were highlighted in red across the globe. These shocking images were key in not only highlighting the impact of heavily industry on the levels of air pollution, but also how the natural topography of the earth can trap these areas of air pollution, creating a ‘cooking pot of NO2’ in areas like Po Valley. 

Dr. Wyche went on to give reasoning to why air pollution is something we should care about, stating that ‘92% of the world’s population lives in areas exceeding WHO air pollution limits’ and  ‘11.6% of global deaths are accounted from poor air quality’. These deaths equate to 5% to 6% of annual mortality within Brighton and Hove. 

But from a scientific perspective, are we doing the best we can? Currently, pollution data is based on classic pollutant parameters such as PM 2.5 and NO2 concentrations. One of the University of Brighton’s key research areas is developing devices to test and monitor levels of Ultra-fine Particles (UFP’s). UFP’s are the smallest fraction of particulate matter, and are also the most harmful form of air pollution to humans. As Kevin put it into perspective, a UFP particle has no measurable mass and is 700 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. UFP’s are extremely important to monitor as they are able to penetrate cells within the lungs and be absorbed through the blood stream, damaging the liver, brain and cardiovascular system. 

Using data from the research laboratory at Falmer, Dr. Wyche gave an overview of the cyclical levels of NO2 and O3 throughout the day in Brighton and how these are influenced by seasonal changes and traffic levels. Levels of Ozone are heavily impacted by sunlight, and peaks of O3 are recorded at noon and in spring and summer months. Levels of NO2 are heavily driven by vehicle pollution, as can be seen from the spikes in NO2 during the morning and afternoon commute. These spikes are also seen during the colder months when the burning of fossil fuels is more prevalent. The common trends of this air quality data in Brighton and Hove appeared to stay below the recommended levels set out by the WHO, with 40 ug m-3 annual mean for NO2 and a 100 ug m-3 8 hour mean for O3. 

Dr. Wyche finished his presentation by highlighting the importance of the epidemiological research of air pollutants such as UFP’s. Dr. Wyche also believes UFPs are the key to understanding the sources and formation of air pollution, and how these can be better understood at a temporal scale.

Want to know more about the impacts of Brexit and UK law on the current state of Air Quality? Watch out for our next blog summarising what Keith Taylor, the Green Party MEP of the South East, said at our event. 

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