Issue date: 07 December 2000

Improvements to the quality of the air that we breathe are being implemented more effectively than ever before thanks to expertise in the West of England.

"In fact, from being one of the least aware countries in Europe fifteen years ago, the UK now has the best framework for implementing air quality legislation and delivering improved air quality," said Professor Jim Longhurst, director of the University of the West of England's (UWE) Centre for Research in Environmental Systems, Pollution and Remediation.

Protecting human health is a key driver for the 1995 Environment Act. The Air Quality Regulations that followed the Act set objectives for the first time that had the protection of human health in mind.

Implementing the objectives - and ensuring that air quality is subject to continual review and improvement - requires local authorities to go through three stages. The first is review and assessment, in which the concentration of various air pollutants is assessed, followed by a forecast of the level of pollutants - such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide - at a future date. If permitted levels are likely to be exceeded, an air quality management area is declared. The final stage is the targeting of the source of the pollution and the actions needed to redress it. The sources of air pollution may of course not be in the control of the local authority. Such sources could include a factory outside their area, a power station which is subject to regulation by the Environment Agency, or a motorway that is governed by the Highways Agency.

These local action plans by their very nature depend for their success on bringing together many different bodies and organisations. Research work on ensuring that air quality action plans are proportional - regulating all polluters in proportion to their impact - as well as sustainable and cost-effective, is soon to start at the UWE's centre.

A grant of £46,000 has been given by the Environment Agency to appoint a research student. The study will also investigate practice in at least two European countries to learn from their experiences, as well as collaborating with the Environment Agency's National Centre for Risk Analysis and Options Appraisal. Professor Jimi Irwin, who is head of the centre, commented: "This exciting and timely research project maintains UWE at the forefront of international research in air quality management."

The project will complement UWE's existing research, funded by organisations such as the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, according to Professor Longhurst. He said: "It will assist the Environment Agency and local authorities in making good decisions about air quality improvements."


Notes to editors

1. So far, there are 10 designated Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) in the UK. Around 30 are in the process of designating or are consulting on a designation. 150 more are yet to announce their intention, of these it is estimated that some 70 may declare an AQMA.

2. Look at the University's website for more information: h - there is a section here devoted to AQMAs.

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