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The main ‘global’ air pollutant of concern in York is carbon dioxide CO2, a powerful greenhouse gas that accumulates int he upper atmosphere and prevents heat from escaping from the Earth. CO2 is linked to global climate change and for York its direct impacts could mean and increase in the occurence of violent storms, increased flooding and changes to local flora and fauna. It may have significant economic impacts and could place additional pressure on our emergency services. 

‘Local’ air pollutants are those that have a direct impact on public health, especially that of the young and old. The main air pollutants of concern in York are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates (PM). These have been linked to lung diseases (asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema), heart conditions and cancer. Based on national estimates of the number of premature deaths due to air pollution, potentially between 94 - 163 people die prematurely each year in York.

Where health based air quality objectives are not being met Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) must be declared. York’s first Air Quality Management Areas was declared around the inner ring road in 2002 and a second followed on Fulford Road in 2010. Both these declarations were made due to exceeding the annual average nitrogen dioxide objective (objective level = 40ug/m3). This is a long term objective aimed at protecting the most vulnerable members of the population from the chronic (debilitating) effects of air pollution. 

These long terms effects are associated with a gradual deterioration in the health of people who are already suffering from lung diseases, and an increased susceptibility to respiratory infections within the general population

Since the last Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, a third Air Quality Management Area has been declared in the Leeman Road / Salisbury Terrace area. As for the previous declarations this new Air Quality Management Areas was necessary due to measured breaches of the annual average nitrogen dioxide objective (objective level = 40ug/m3).

In addition to the new Air Quality Management Areas on Salisbury Terrace it has also been necessary to amend the boundaries of the city centre Air Quality Management Areas first declared in 2002. This amendment takes account of recent indicative monitoring suggesting that the short term hourly objective for nitrogen dioxide is now also being breached in the George Hudson Street and Rougier Street area. A full air quality progress report for York provides maps and details about air quality monitoring areas, a range of other key measures and summarises local priorities and strategies.

The short term hourly objective is aimed at protecting the most vulnerable members of the population from the acute (immediate) effects of air pollution, which may involve irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and an increase the symptoms of existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema. Breaches of the hourly objective are more infrequently observed in urban environments than breaches of the annual average objective, indicating that day to day peak levels of nitrogen dioxide pollutant concentrations in the city are increasing. Increased bus flow in this area and higher emissions of primary nitrogen dioxide (directly from the exhaust) from diesel vehicles in general are likely to be the main cause of the increased pollution levels.

In October 2012 City of York Council adopted an overarching Low Emission Strategy. This aims to improve local air quality and reduce carbon emissions through a series of measures that will encourage the use of low emission technologies and alternative fuels within the vehicle fleet; these measures are already beginning to be implemented. Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide decreased at all real-time monitoring sites inside and outside the Air Quality Management Areas between 2011 and 2012, but there remain a large number of indicative monitoring site locations within the Air Quality Management Areas where the air quality objectives are still being breached and concentrations of nitrogen dioxide have not yet fallen. 

A recent report from World Health Organisation (WHO) ‘Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollutants’ has produced new evidence of long-term effects of nitrogen dioxide for people suffering from existing respiratory and heart problems and indicates that these effects can occur below the current air quality objective levels.

The following priorities are being focussed on in York:

  • Meeting the air quality objectives at all locations.
  • Implementation of further measures within the Low Emission Strategy
  • Development of the 3rd Air Quality Action Plan
  • Promotion of the impacts of poor air quality on public health
  • A possible city centre low emission zone for buses and Heavy Goods Vehicles
  • A roll out of low emission vehicles in York and especially within the council fleet

Undertake a high profile public health campaign highlighting the causes and effects of poor air quality. We need specialist input from health professionals to develop and endorse key messages in partnership with appropriate colleagues.

Research into the need for a public air pollution alert system and methods of delivery (we currently have some capital funding from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to support this work but not enough human resource to take it forward)

Development of a health impact assessment for the Low Emission Strategy. This requires the provision of detailed health data for the local area and input from local health professionals to collate the evidence against other factors such as deprivation, hospital admissions etc. A similar piece of work is currently being developed in Bradford led by the Public Health team.


This page was last updated on 03 December 2014
This page will be reviewed by 03 December 2015