February 2012

On Air: Interview with City of London’s Ruth Calderwood

To coincide with the announcement of the 2011/12 Sustainable City Awards this month, we took the opportunity to talk to Ruth Calderwood, the City’s environmental policy officer about some of the unique aspects of air quality work in the heart of London.

(KCL) - What led you to work in the air quality field?
(RC) - There are many sustainability issues but few have a direct, causal link to public health. Air quality is just one example and peaked my interest as local actions can have a real and immediate impact. When I left University I worked in arboriculture and conservation for a while but I have stayed working in air quality since as I like the mix of science and technology and policy development.

(KCL) - The Sustainable City Awards for 2011/12 have just been announced. What do you look for in the air quality entrants?
(RC) - We are in the second year of the Sustainable City Award for air quality and choosing a winner for the award has posed a real challenge as the entrants have been of such a high quality. The submissions are judged with the King’s College London Environmental Research Group and Environmental Protection UK. We look for submissions that demonstrate more than just best practice. Successful applicants have to promote innovation and leadership as well as a commitment to continuous improvement.

(KCL) - Many people see environmental concerns and business concerns as opposites. How has the Corporation engaged with the business community on the CityAir project?
(RC) - The single most important facet of any business engagement strategy is understanding their needs, concerns and business drivers. If you listen, bring the real impact of air quality to the business audience and ask them what the main barriers are and offer solutions, they are more than willing to help. The CityAir project has revealed just that. Dozens of companies supported the development of best practice documentation and case studies to make a real impact to addressing local poor air quality. The City has found real air quality business champions in the most unlikely places.

(KCL) - What projects are you working on at the moment?
(RC) - One of the key messages that came out of the business engagement work is that people still do not know that London has an air quality problem. Consequently, in addition to continuing to roll out CityAir, I'm working on a City-wide air quality communications campaign. I'm also implementing a project to reduce the amount of unnecessary vehicle idling. I'm interested in future options for NOx-based Low Emission Zones, and given the uncertainty about the success of the Euro Standards in bringing down NOx emissions, I'm working with a range of partners to test emissions from different vehicle types in urban driving conditions.

(KCL) - Lastly, we always ask our interviewees what they think the future holds for air quality in London.
(RC) - There has been a lot of reliance on technological fixes to improve air quality over the past 10 years or so and we haven't seen the improvements that were anticipated. Unfortunately we are not at the stage yet of the widespread use of electric vehicles, or other low emission fuels such as gas, which would go a long way towards helping the situation. We therefore need to be thinking more broadly in the short term. In a City the size of London it is important to get public support for improving air quality and convey the health messages adequately. I think that a sustained and wide scale publicity campaign could bring about a sizeable amount of behavioural change which would help to reduce polluton in the capital. It should also lead to greater support for other potentially unpopular policy decisions such as further vehicle restrictions.
I remain concerned about the potential air quality impact of emerging alternative fuels which are being badged as renewable and carbon neutral. We should be pushing for non-combustion renewables across London to address the carbon reduction and air quality targets together. I also think the amount of on site Combined Heat and Power in London should be restricted whilst we have such a problem with levels of nitrogen dioxide.

Our thanks to Ruth for talking to us this month. If you want to find out more about the CityAir campaign you can check out the CityAir website here and follow @_cityair on Twitter.

Sustainable City Awards 2011/12

The winners of the Sustainable City Awards 2011/12 have been announced with Invisible Dust scooping the top prize in the air quality category.

The Sustainable City Awards recognise and reward UK organisations, from multinational businesses to small charities, and promote outstanding achievements and innovation across all aspects of sustainability. The judging panel was chaired by Ruth Calderwood from the City of London and included Dr Gary Fuller from King’s and Lewis Merdler from EP UK, the Healthy Air and Black Carbon Campaigns.

The air quality category is now in its second year, Clean Air in London campaigner Simon Birkett won the award in 2011.
Dr Gary Fuller said:

“Judging the entrants was extremely difficult this year as all the entrants demonstrated real innovation in their field. After much discussion though the panel decided to give the 2012 award to Invisible Dust for the drive and passion of the project and it’s Director Alice Sharp and her team.”

Applications for the awards will open again in the Autumn. Keep an eye on the Sustainable City Awards site for more details.

Rewired State Hackday @ The GLA

In early February a group of young hackers from rewiredstate.org were invited to City Hall, given coffee, muffins, access to data sets from across London and two days to see what they could produce.

The event was organised and sponsored by the GLA with the intention of encouraging organisations across London to make their data sets available to help spur the growing digital economy.

Hackdays aim to show what is possible when data is made available by combining data from disparate sources and creating visualisations and prototype applications which were not previously possible, in a very short space of time.

The GLA funded King’s to develop special access protocols to our LondonAir servers for the hackers to work with. Several of the developers used air quality data in their applications but one developer, Stef Lewandowski used our data exclusively to build two applications.

The first was a fun interactive kids game called Smoggle.

Guide Smoggle through an abstracted map of pollution in London to get to the next oxygen source before your breath runs out. Beware, if you move him through the higher pollution squares your breath runs out faster.

The second was a simplified version of our pollution map showing monitoring sites in London called isitsmoggyinlondontoday?. Click on a site to see a pollution gauge which you can then bookmark.

We were amazed by what the developers were able to produce in just two days and now we are looking at further opportunities to open our data up to encourage more innovation like this.

Short clip of stef presenting his app.

King’s & Invisible Dust at the Brighton Science Festival

King’s were delighted to participate in this year’s Brighton Science Festival now in it’s eighth year.

Our workshop at the Brighton Science Festival in early February is the latest in a series of events where King’s have participated to help promote public awareness and understanding of air quality through art and science.

The King’s stall included an art section staffed by artists Effie Coe and Claire Bennett from Invisible Dust giving kids (and adults!) the opportunity to create an ink drawing using breath.

The air quality science section was staffed by Andrew Grieve and Dr Gary Fuller from King’s, who gave people an opportunity to learn about pollution monitoring and the health impact of pollution in Sussex. The Smoggle game created at the Hackday only two days before was a big hit with the kids.

Professor Frank Kelly and Alice Sharp also presented at the event and fielded questions from a very inquisitive and engaged audience. Our thanks to the Brighton Science Festival for inviting us down and we look forward to next year.

Camden launch new air quality strategy

Camden have this month launched a new air quality strategy which is aimed at addressing the issues raised at the Camden and Islington Air Quality Summit in November last year.
The strategy is wide ranging and investigates the possibility of an inner-London low emission zone, something Clean Air for London’s Simon Birkett has long campaigned for.

Following Islington’s lead, the plan also includes investigating more 20mph zones in London along with the development of a medium term air quality plan for London which focuses on PM2.5 and its associated health impacts.

The strategy includes plans on encouraging sustainable travel, reducing emissions from buildings, raising awareness of air quality issues at a borough level and ensuring new developments are air quality neutral.

You can read the strategy in full here.

Clean Air 4 Schools project

The London Sustanability Exchange has partnered with TfL to educate pupils at 3 inner London schools about air pollution as part of TfL’s Cleaner Air for London fund.

The project aims to improve the confidence, knowledge and skills of parents, teachers, pupils and school governors, helping them to understand the importance of air quality and how they can influence the behaviour of others.

The objectives of the campaign are:
  • Increase awareness of air pollution issues amongst parents, teachers, pupils and school governors.
  • Empower parents, teachers, pupils and school governors to change their behaviour – such as idling outside school gates - and to encourage others to do the same.
  • Encourage better communication and a stronger sense of community between parents, teachers, pupils and school governors.

Find out more about the project at LSX’s website or contact Tannith Cattermole at t.cattermole@lsx.org.uk.

Recent Episode: Widespread PM10 & PM2.5 episode in early February

Throughout the first half of February 2012, London and the south east experienced elevated particulate levels due to an influx of polluted air from continental Europe combined with local emissions and calm cold weather conditions.

The episode started on Friday 3rd February and continued until a change in air mass on the afternoon of Sunday 12th February. Widespread 'moderate' PM10 and PM2.5 levels were recorded across the region on most days over this period, along with occasional 'moderate' NO2 at some busy roadside locations.

The episode peaked over the weekend of 11th and 12th February, with 'high' PM10 and PM2.5 being recorded at a number of locations throughout London, including the monitoring site in suburban Teddington. This is the first time that 'high' PM2.5 has been reported since the pollutant was added to Defra's Daily Air Pollution Index at the beginning of the year.

A change in air mass on the afternoon of Sunday the 12th brought north westerly winds and warmer air, causing levels to drop very rapidly from 2pm onwards.

New Monitoring site in Hounslow joins the LAQN

In February Hounslow installed a new roadside monitoring station in the Gunnersbury area to complement their existing network of continuous analysers.

The site monitors NOx and PM10 particulates by TEOM with the PM10 data automatically corrected in real-time using King’s volatile correction model before dissemination across London Air’s range of air quality websites and apps.

You can see the new site on London Air here.

Bexley - Erith monitoring station repoens

The Bexley monitoring site in Manor Road, Erith reopened in early February with funding from TfL, after being mothballed in February 2011 for budgetary reasons.

The monitoring site is of particular interest since it was the first to be specifically opened by a local authority to monitor particulate in the vicinity of a waste management site, and has exceeded the Air Quality Daily Objective for PM10 every year since it opened in 1999.

The station has been reopened to provide data during TfL’s dust suppressant trial at waste transfer stations.

Video: History of air pollution in London

As we write London is experiencing the second day of a widespread PM10 and PM2.5 episode.

This month’s featured video looks at how air pollution has changed in London over the last 50 to 60 years, with interviews from Dr Gary Fuller’s parents, Professor Peter Brimblecombe from University of East Anglia and King’s Professor Frank Kelly.

From the web

A selection of stories from around the web this month:

Pollutionwatch February 2012 Dr Gary Fuller’s monthly Pollutionwatch series for the Guardian

A frank exchange of views between the Environmental Audit Committee and Caroline Spelman MP
>The Guardian writes it up
>Campaign for clean air in London resigns from government’s stakeholder group on air quality in response

Analysis into the impact of car clubs on air pollution in London
TfL launch the new hybrid routemaster bus
The Green Party consider road pricing scheme to reduce traffic by 10%
UCL hold the 10th international conference on indoor air quality
Wandsworth councillors vote to extend smoke control ban to cover whole of borough
London City airport publishes its 2010 annual report
Putney Society and Wandsworth Council petition for hybrid buses
Croydon approves new waste incinerator plan
Campaign for clean air in London launches mayoral manifesto
The Mayor welcomes London's 200th hybrid bus to the fleet
The Mayor also announces retrofitting of 1000 buses with NOx & PM10 abatement technology(Cached version)
Report on public health services devolving to local authorities

Air pollution linked to heart attack risk

Air pollutant emission limits exceeded in twelve EU Member States
How do forest fires in Canada affect air quality in the UK?
Beijing aims to reduce PM2.5 levels 30% by 2020

And finally
NOx eating public art in Cuba
More public painting using pollution in Italy
>His Flickr photo stream (it’s really amazing)

That’s all for this month’s edition, If you have any comments, suggestions or things you’d like publicised please let us know. See you next month.