United Kingdom Air Quality Fact Sheet

The UK is one of the few places in the world that has been successfully decreasing overall levels of air pollution over recent years. In the past decade alone, the country has effectively cut its SO2 gas emissions by almost half. In 2019, the total emissions were nearly 300,000 tons less than in 2010.

Despite these achievements, many UK residents live in areas with air pollution levels exceeding the recommended health standard. Urban regions continue to be the biggest concern for alarming concentrations of ambient air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter, or PM10 and PM2.5, ground-level ozone, and NO2.

Overall Air Quality in the UK

While the overall air quality in the UK has been improving over time, there continue to be concerns over urban air pollution. The main source of urban air pollution is diesel and gas-combusting vehicles, which are the leading contributors to ambient NO2 and PM levels.

However, the UK still measures up as a country with relatively good annual air quality and PM2.5 concentrations on a global scale.

  • According to a 2019 report, the UK reported having a 10.5 µg/m3 PM2.5 concentration, which ranked it 21st out of the global counties with the lowest national levels of PM2.5.
  • All Scottish cities were deemed to be within the WHO’s safety standards for PM2.5 concentration.
  • The regions with the best-observed air quality (low particulate matter concentrations) are Scottish cities; in 2018, 6 out of 10 of the UK’s cities with the best air quality were located in Scotland.
  • The English city of Harmondsworth was determined to have the best air quality in 2019.

The UK’s Ambient PM2.5 Concentrations

According to the UK’s Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010, PM2.5 concentrations should not exceed an annual average of 20 µg/m3. Based on data collected over the past decade, PM2.5 concentrations have successfully stayed within this acceptable range, gradually decreasing from 2009 to 2020.

In addition, the annual mean number of hours observed with moderate or high levels of PM2.5 concentration significantly decreased from 2009 to 20219. These improvements indicate a decrease in the risk of illness and mortality due to air pollution.

Areas With The Lowest Air Quality Conditions

Despite the nationwide improvements in reducing PM2.5 and other airborne pollutants, there are still several areas that have concerning air quality:

  • Urban environments in the southeastern regions tend to have the highest concentrations of PM2.5; this may be due to exposure to traveling air pollution from adjacent European regions.
  • In 2021, four of the cities with the highest levels of PM2.5 concentration were located in the urban regions of London, South West, or South East regions.

Health Risks and Mortality Due to Air Quality

Air pollution is a significant contributing factor to health and increased mortality12. UK regions with considerably lower air quality are some of the most susceptible to these unfortunate consequences.

  • An estimated 66,670 UK residents experienced adverse health effects from exposure to air pollution between 2015-2019.
  • Between 2015 and 2019, PM2.5 concentrations in the air caused an estimated 33,076 premature deaths in the UK.

How to Manage Exposure to Air Pollution and PM2.5?

One of the most effective and reliable methods for UK residents to track local air quality levels is through the real-time PurpleAir Map. This real-time map provides local air quality information collected by PurpleAir air quality monitors hosted by Community Scientists. Stay informed with the PurpleAir Map, especially if traveling to low-air quality regions.

References

https://www.iqair.com/uk

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/air-quality-statistics/concentrations-of-particulate-matter-pm10-and-pm25

https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air/country-fact-sheets/2021-country-fact-sheets/united-kingdom

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