Appalling air quality measured in Crystal Palace

In July 2014, we monitored levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution in Crystal Palace with the support of Mapping for Change. We called on TfL to clean up its bus fleet to deal with the problem we’ve exposed.

We found that most of the main roads were well above the legal limits, set to protect our health. This means we are all breathing illegally polluted air when we walk, cycle, take the bus or drive around the area on main roads. People working in shops and cafes will also be exposed, day in, day out. Thankfully, residential side roads seemed a lot better.

See for yourself on this map. The legal limit is 40 μg/m3.

Air pollution is the second biggest cause of premature death in London after smoking; it’s worse than obesity, alcoholism and road crashes. It is increases the chance that children get asthma, reduces their lung development, and aggravates heart and lung conditions in adults. We have to fix it!

What can we do about it?

Using data from TfL published on Jenny Jones’ “how polluted is my road?” web site, we estimate that between a fifth and a third of this pollution comes from buses, so we want them to clean up their fleet.

We obtained confirmation from TfL that they have no plans to roll out cleaner buses on the 16 routes travelling along main roads in our area. So we ran a petition calling on Transport for London to upgrade its buses in our area more quickly.

Since then, TfL has upgraded at least two routes to carry more modern hybrid buses!

How can I protect myself?

If you’re worried, there are a five things you can do to reduce your exposure:

  1. Try to avoid main roads, for example take a back route up to the Triangle, and the various footpaths and roads through the middle.
  2. If you live or work on a main road, keep doors and windows facing the road closed.
  3. When you do go up the main roads stay away from the kerbs, and if you have asthma or a heart condition try to avoid strenuous exercise – take your time.
  4. Sign up for air quality alerts with airText to tell you when it is particularly bad.
  5. Walk and cycle instead of driving, research has shown motorists get the worst of it while they sit in the middle of the carriageway stuck in traffic. You’ll also contribute less to the problem, it’s a win-win!

Data and techy stuff

You can download a spreadsheet of all the data we gathered here.

The readings come from diffusion tubes, put out for roughly a month and sent off for analysis via Mapping for Change at UCL. We are told the readings probably have a margin of error of plus or minus 20%, so they are just indicative of a general level not accurate readings.

We want the five councils in the area to do more monitoring of air quality. Currently we only know of three diffusion tube sites run by two councils – Bromley and Croydon. There was a continuous air quality monitoring station on Crystal Palace Parade, but it was turned off a few years ago due to funding cuts. Our reading from that location was 58 μ/m3, well above the legal limit!

When we talk about the “legal limit”, we’re referring to limits set by the EU as part of the Air Quality Directive, which is based on science compiled by the World Health Organisation. It isn’t to say that any pollution at 39μg/m3 or 38μg/m3 is safe, though.