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UK air quality improves over long term

However, government-funded report on air quality between 1990 and 2010 shows that levels of key pollutants higher per capita in Scotland and Wales due to heavy industry

Air quality is improving over the long term across the UK, with particular progress made in reducing lead emissions, according to a report published today (September 13).

However, the study on air pollution between 1990 and 2010 shows that levels of key pollutants are higher per capita in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than the UK average, due to the prevalence of agriculture and heavy industry.

Air quality has improved over the last two decades across the UK

The report, ‘Air Quality Pollutant Inventories for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: 1990 – 2010’ was produced by consultancy AEA. It is intended to keep the UK administrations better informed, to enable them to meet the objectives set down in the Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and meet European targets.

The study looks at emissions of seven ‘priority’ air quality pollutants: Ammonia (NH3); carbon monoxide (CO); nitrogen oxides (NOX as NO2); non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs); sub-10 micron particulate matter (PM10); sulphur dioxide (SO2); and, lead (Pb).

Drawing on a range of data ranging from rail company fuel usage to road traffic figures, the report draws a picture of how emissions have fallen across the UK over the last two decades.

When looking at the data per capita, the report concludes that:

  • Across all devolved administrations (DA’s), for all pollutants, per capita emissions have fallen between 1990 and 2010;
  • The most notable decrease (in percentage terms) is for lead, with a decrease of more than 90% across all of the DAs;
  • In England, per capita emissions are lower than the UK average for all pollutants in 2010;
  • In Northern Ireland, ammonia emissions per capita are almost four times the UK average in 2010. This is due to the very high contribution of emissions from agriculture, relative to the rest of the UK; Northern Ireland accounts for 11% of UK agriculture emissions, compared with just 3% of the UK population;
  • Sulphur dioxide emissions per capita in Scotland are higher than the UK average, due to the high contribution of Scottish emissions from residential combustion and power stations to the UK totals for these sectors (21% and 34%, respectively, compared with only 8% of the UK population);
  • Scottish VOC emissions per capita are 85% higher than the UK average, mostly due to the high contribution of Scottish emissions from food and drink manufacture to both the UK total for this sector, and the Scottish total VOC emission;
  • Welsh emissions are much higher than the UK average for NOx, PM10, SO2, and most notably for Pb and CO. This is due predominantly to the contribution of iron and steel industry emissions to the Welsh total.

Full details of how emissions have fallen in each country can be found in the report here.

Wales

Despite emissions of certain pollutants being much higher in Wales per capita than the UK average, the findings were welcomed by Welsh environment minister John Griffiths.

Mr Griffiths said: “I am pleased that substantial progress has been made since 1990 with emissions of the majority of pollutants decreasing by more than 50%.

“Air quality continues to have the potential to affect health and the environment in parts of Wales, and the Welsh Government will continue to seek improvements in air quality.”

Related Links

Air pollution inventories

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