Heathrow air pollution down dramatically during Covid lockdown
With very low numbers of planes using Heathrow (97% down) over the past 3 months, due to the Covid lockdown, this has been an excellent opportunity to get data on air pollution – comparing days with, and without, the planes. Using data from Air Quality England, local group Stop Heathrow Expansion have found that five air quality monitors around Heathrow which breached the maximum legal limit in March – May 2019 have shown an average 41% improvement in the same period in 2020. Our current air quality laws state that nitrogen dioxide concentrations must not average more than 40 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3), per year. This level is often exceeded at a range of locations around Heathrow. Readings from a site on the Northern Perimeter Road showed a 50% improvement in air quality. Another site outside Cherry Lane Primary School had a 46% reduction in NO2 emissions, from 44.1µg/m3 in March – May 2019 to a safer 23.9 µg/m3 in the same period in 2020. As well as fewer planes, there were fewer road vehicles. Air pollution figures from inside the airport boundary were substantially lower, showing the source is planes, not only road vehicles, as Heathrow likes to claim.
HEATHROW AIR POLLUTION DOWN DRAMATICALLY during Covid lockdown
22nd June 2020
From Stop Heathrow Expansion
· Local Heathrow air quality improved by 41% since March
· Pollution monitors that regularly breached legal limits now safely within them
· Call for improved local air quality to be maintained as much as possible post-lockdown through Government adopting World Health Organisation guidelines for air pollution in its Environment Bill.
Research by campaigners has found an improvement of over 40% in local air quality around Heathrow Airport in the three months to the end of May 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.
Using data from Air Quality England, Stop Heathrow Expansion have found that five air quality monitors around Heathrow which breached the maximum legal limit in March – May 2019 have shown an average 41% improvement in the same period in 2020.
Our current air quality laws state that nitrogen dioxide concentrations must not average more than 40 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3), per year.
The lockdown has seen readings of one monitor, located on Heathrow’s Northern Perimeter Road showing a substantial 50% improvement in local air quality. Another site located outside Cherry Lane Primary School, close to the Heathrow junction of the M4 motorway, saw a 46% reduction in NO2 emissions, from 44.1µg/m3 in March – May 2019 to a safer 23.9 µg/m3 in the same period in 2020.
Of the five sites assessed, the three Hillingdon sites breached legal limits from January – December 2019 (Table 2). The sites in Slough and Hounslow, on major roads linking Heathrow to central London and the Thames Valley, there were recorded breaches throughout the 2019, with readings such as 45.7 µg/m3 recorded at the Hounslow monitor in April 2019 alone.
A monitor within the Slough Borough, on a key road linking Heathrow to Langley and Slough, saw a 35% improvement in local air quality – from an illegal reading of 41.2µg/m3 in 2019 to 27.2µg/m3 in 2020.
Similarly, a monitor on the A4 within the London Borough of Hounslow saw a 36% reduction in nitrogen dioxide, from an average of 39.6µg/m3 in 2019 – with individual months such as March and April 2019 showing concentrations of 40.0 and 45.7µg/m3 respectively – to just 25.4µg/m3 in March – May 2020.
This substantial improvement in local air quality around Heathrow is due to the reduced airport operations and a 97% reduction in passenger traffic. This in turn:
· reduced the number of planes polluting the local atmosphere;
· substantially reduced the number of private car journeys;
· reduced the number of cargo-related HGV movements on the local road network.
Despite claims by Heathrow that the poor local air quality is due to non-airport related traffic and their own operations, the reduction in the airport-related workforce has led to reduced private car journeys of employees (50% of airport-related employees travel to work by car). Staff car parks are empty as evidenced by the ‘drive thru’ COVID-19 testing centre at Heathrow.
It is vital that post-lockdown, our air quality is not allowed to exceed the legal limits. Heathrow must take more robust action to ensure its workforce, and the workforce of its partners, uses alternative methods of transport to travel to work and provide greater provision for active travel such as walking and cycling. Passengers must be discouraged, in the strongest possible way, from travelling to the airport by car.
Stop Heathrow Expansion is calling for the Government to adopt into UK law the World Health Organisation guidelines, with a commitment to non-regression. The guidelines state that in order to protect the public from harmful pollutants, nitrogen dioxide concentrations must not average more than 40 micrograms per cubic metre, per year.
The Government’s Environment Bill should provide greater powers for holding large polluters, such as Heathrow, to account, where there is evidence that a breach or severe detriment in local air quality is due to the operations of the organisation. The Bill must include a legally binding commitment to meet WHO guideline limits for NO2 and other harmful pollutants, with a commitment to non-regression.
The Bill presents a unique opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in limiting toxic pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, in the pursuit of cleaner air and to protect the health of local people not just around Heathrow, but around other airports across the UK.