High air pollution hits Port Talbot

Measured levels of particulate matter PM10 in the industrial area of Port Talbot reached as high as 9 on the government’s air pollution scale yesterday (August 4), while levels remain at a ‘moderate’ 5 in the area today.

The PM10 exceedances in Port Talbot have been found to come from the direction of the steelworks, the council says

The PM10 exceedances in Port Talbot mainly come from the direction of the steelworks, the council says

The ‘high’ reading at the South Wales site yesterday morning prompted an alert on the front page of the Defra Air website, which provides advice on air pollution levels and forecasts across the UK. The scale runs from 1 (low) to 10 (very high).

Situated in an industrial area close to the large Tata Steel facility, the Port Talbot Margam monitoring site is the only station on the UK urban network to have measured high levels of any pollutant in the last two days, the national monitoring network data shows.

It means the national daily average limit for PM10 of 50ugm3 (microgrammes per cubic metre) has now been exceeded more than 10 times so far at the Port Talbot site in 2015.

UK objectives state that this limit should not be exceeded more than 35 times in one year, although this has only happened four times since 2000 and the annual average limit of 40ugm3 has never been exceeded at this site.

According to Neath Port Talbot county borough council, the PM10 exceedance days so far this year “have arisen mainly from the direction of the steel works” and it said information on pollution levels is disseminated to residents on its own website, the Welsh Air Quality site and the Defra Air site.

Alert system

PM10 levels have long been an issue in the Port Talbot area, with the council drafting an action plan in 2012 aimed at combatting levels of the pollutant, which analysis in the plan indicated came from the direction of the steelworks (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Aerial photograph of the Neath Port Talbot county borough council AQMA, where concerns over dust pollution have in the past been raised due to the nearby Tata Steel factory

Aerial photograph of the Neath Port Talbot county borough council AQMA, where concerns over dust pollution have in the past been raised due to the nearby Tata Steel factory

The council also piloted an alert system between 2012 and 2014 aimed at reducing hospital admissions and use of health services by informing people with “the most compromised respiratory health” of ways to minimise pollution exposure or of suitable medication to take.

And, despite a 2014 council report finding that the system was “prone to over-predicting pollution episodes”, participants in the airAware alert pilot had found it to be “easy to use and informative”.

However, the airAware system was discontinued last year because, according to a council spokesman, it “resulted in greater [hospital] admissions possibly due to raised concern”.

The council spokesman said:

“We continue to operate an email alerting system which is delivered to regulators, operators and government with the aim of intervening in a developing exceedance day to try to avoid it.”

The council spokesman also explained that the authority “is not the regulator of the steelworks”, adding that all local air pollution data “is shared with Natural Resources Wales [NRW] and with the Welsh Government, which has overall responsibility for air quality in Wales”.

Short term action plan

In addition to the council’s action plan, the Welsh Government also published a short term action plan in 2013 aimed specifically at cutting PM10 in Port Talbot. The Neath Port Talbot council spokesman said this plan is “still very much alive”.

The plan gave the devolved authority the power to suspend the environmental permits of the steelworks and acknowledged that while air quality has “significantly improved in recent years there is still room for improvement” (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Tata Steel was also issued with an enforcement notice by NRW in 2013 over dust levels in Port Talbot, but was commended last year by the regulator for subsequent improvements which were made to the site to address the issue (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Responding to news of high pollution levels in the area this week, a spokesman for Tata Steel said: “Port Talbot’s Air Quality Management Area is a confined urban space including various industrial sites, the docks, two major transport arteries. Tata Steel works closely with NRW and the local authority in monitoring and taking action on the results of the air quality monitors, meeting regularly with representatives of the local community.

“We take our responsibilities very seriously indeed and action has been taken to manage fugitive dust emissions from the steelworks. This includes process plant technology and measures to manage particulates generated by vehicular activity on the large site. Regularly we engage with the local community in open days and other forums, we have a community helpline and we investigate observations and complaints from local neighbours.”