Note of APPG on Air Pollution meeting on 18/7/19: The Air We Share

Thatcher Room, Portcullis House

On the 18th of July, the APPG on Air Pollution held its second event of 2019, focused on the key findings of phase one of “The Air We Share”, a new transformative communications and engagement campaign that aims to cut Londoner’s exposure to poor air quality.

Michael Farrow, Executive Director of EIC, welcomed the attendees and thanked the panel for taking part, and Trewin Restorick (CEO) and Elle McAll (Creative Partner) from Hubbub for organizing the event.

Before the panel took the stage, the following video was played, to give the audience a general overview of the #AirWeShare campaign by Hubbub.

Following the short video, Elle (chair of the event) invited the panellists to introduce themselves:

Andrew Grieve kicked off the discussion on the phase one #AirWeShare campaign by raising awareness on another issue which should be mentioned and analysed more often. He pointed out how the general public and media tends to focus on the PM2.5 and PM10 particles, disregarding ozone. Ozone is normally formed when other pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, react in sunlight. According to Mr. Grieve, ozone figures are currently on the rise and it is indeed an issue which should be further discussed. Mr. Grieve then focused on the #AirWeShare campaign.

He explained how Kings College has a network of monitors set up around London to measure pollution levels. Whilst the data gathered by the network is relevant for further analysis of specific areas and the City itself, it doesn’t tell us about individual-level exposure. Monitoring an individual’s exposure is complex, as daily lives differ from one another. In order to gain an insight into when and where people are most exposed to pollution, Hubbub and Kings College selected 13 people of different ages, gender, professions and neighbourhoods, and asked them to carry an air quality monitor up to one week. The results were indeed very different from one another; for example, the HGV driver and outdoor worker were noticeably more exposed than the others.

Mr. Grieve mentioned some findings, such as that concerns over air pollution were particularly high for families with children; wider spaces with minor constrictions were less polluted; buildings closer to roads were exposed to more pollution compared to buildings located in quieter roads. In one particular instance, the air quality monitor spiked for one of the Londoners: it turned out that the reason for the spike was the burning of a candle during an evening yoga relaxation session. Tube lines are particularly polluted zones, especially the Northern Line as it is the deepest; Karen Buck MP shared her surprise about the spike she saw on her monitor when riding the Bakerloo Line. It was highlighted that the composition of particles Underground is different to Overground (tube dust is mostly iron oxide).

It was observed how personal story-telling element can raise awareness of the issue on a more tangible level, compared to an academic study. Hence why The Times used the #AirWeShare study to support its Clean Air For All campaign.

Mr. Restorick explained how he thinks there’s the opportunity for businesses to take a lead,  because while government policies are needed, businesses can move much faster compared to government’s initiatives. Mr. Restorick also added that more needs to be done to build awareness and engagement, as public understanding is still poor. Karen Buck MP added that from a policy point of view, we need a new clean air act, and local authorities need to come together and drive the campaign. The Government must set clear frameworks, the public needs to drive and support the initiatives, and the community has to change its mentality by joining the initiatives.

In conclusion, the panel agreed that they were encouraged by Michael Gove’s speech given on the 16th of July in Kew Gardens. The momentum to tackle air pollution is growing, for it affects us directly and gives a different perspective to the climate change conversation.

The audience was then invited to ask questions or comments. Key points made were:

  • There is little public understanding of what good and bad air quality is (e.g. difference between ambient and underground air).
  • There are plenty of monitors in the outdoors, which can mislead the public to think that once indoor, they are save from the polluted outdoor air. The public needs to be aware and educated about the indoor pollution. A holistic approach to the problem is needed, as air pollution is not only external, but internal as well.
  • People will care much more if they have some ownership of pollution data i.e. it is from their streets and neighbourhood.
  • Idling: there is hardly any research done on the effectiveness of anti-idling policies.
  • Why do councils not clamp and get cars towed away instead of just fining them?

The panel concluded the event on a positive note, stressing how we must bridge between the expertise and the passion of the audience in the room and policy makers. There is more knowledge about the issue of air pollution and simultaneously there is a growing understanding and desire to act.