Air pollution in Oxford increases for the first time in years

In a report released by Oxford City Council, results from 71 air pollution monitoring locations have shown that levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have increased.

New data shows the first significant increase in air pollution levels in Oxfordshire since 2011, masking what was a plateauing trend, that has been observed since 2017.

Data from Oxford City Council’s 71 air pollution monitoring locations has come back with reports that levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has increased by an average of 7.9% (roughly 2-3 µg/m3)  between 2018 and 2019.  This is the first significant overall increase on average since 2011, which saw a 6.9% yearly increase.

From Oxfordshire’s results, six sites out of the 71 sites that were monitored in 2019 were in breach of the annual legal limit (High Street, Long Wall Street, St Clements (on two monitoring stations), George Street, St Aldates) and the Council believe that these results “illustrate that more needs to be done to tackle pollution in the city, including the introduction of a Zero Emission Zone to restrict polluting vehicles.”

Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford, said:

“Unlike the smog from industrial chimneys and cigarette smoke, you can’t see the air pollution caused by fossil fuel vehicles. However, we can see the evidence of its impact in the ill health of residents exposed to polluted air. We’ve made progress in our efforts to achieve better air quality and a high quality of life, but we need to bring in cleaner buses, reduce the numbers of fossil fuel vehicles on our roads, and create segregated cycle routes. That way we can truly achieve the cleanest possible air for Oxford.”

Despite their assertions that polluting vehicles need to be restricted, the report also shows that traffic data for 2019 did not show any significant increases in traffic levels in Oxford city when compared with 2018 data, and it is believed that significant rises in NO2 is more consistent with meteorological data for extreme weather.

Air-Quality.Org explains:

“The weather has an important effect on air pollution levels. Generally, windy weather causes pollution to be dispersed whilst still weather allows pollution to build up. Coastal locations and open areas often experience more windy weather and are therefore likely to experience better air quality.  The pressure of the air also affects whether pollution levels build up. During high pressure systems, the air is usually still which allows pollution levels to build up but during low pressure systems the weather is often wet and windy, causing pollutants to be dispersed or washed out of the atmosphere by rain.”

During January/February, April, and November, the city saw record-breaking temperatures of cold weather, occurring during high pressure systems. This resulted in increases of NO2 levels during those months, with NO2 levels in all other months remaining consistent with previous years.

The impact of cold weather has resulted in an overall increase of the annual mean NO2 by 2-3μg/m3.

The Council conclude that the he overall increase in air pollution levels demonstrate a need fir continued action to reduce emissions across the city to ensure that air quality levels reduce significantly, and ensure that Oxford’s air is not just cleaner, but safer to breathe.


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