Air quality: find out how bad it is where you live

Air Pollution in Hackney

Air Pollution in Hackney, Pic:David Holt

So we all know air pollution’s bad. But what’s causing it?

We crunched the numbers to look at what’s causing smog in our boroughs.

Swipe the slideshow below to find out the key air pollution facts in each ELL borough.


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NOx Emissions

Nitrogen Oxides, in particular Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), are a group of gases that are harmful to human health. Nitrogen Oxides affect people’s respiratory systems and damage the lungs: inflaming the lung lining and reducing immunity to infections, particularly for those who already have asthma.

Road transport, like cars and lorries, is by far the greatest contributor to Nitrogen Oxide emissions in all four ELL boroughs.

In Lewisham, industry is the second biggest contributor to NOx pollution. “Although industry does contribute a significant percentage of emissions within the borough as a whole, as the emissions are through high level chimney stacks it has been shown that they do not have a significant impact on ground level, where residents are exposed,” a Lewisham Council Spokesperson told Eastlondonlines. “When looking at actions in reducing poor local air quality the Council is targeting other sources, particularly road traffic, which is more effective in reducing exposure to poor air quality.”

In Tower Hamlets, river traffic is a significant cause of air pollution: this looks set to increase with the planned development of Enderby Wharf in Greenwich. This ferry terminal will play host to large and heavily-polluting cruise ships – and according to campaigners, during the summer months these will emit pollution equivalent to 700 lorries idling constantly. But Greenwich council claims the development will bring “bring new jobs and businesses” to the borough.

To see the sources of pollutants in your area, click through to your borough in the graph below.

See bottom of article for key.

 PM2.5 Emissions

PM2.5 is particulate air pollution – tiny particles up to 2.5 micrometres in size, around a 30th of the width of a human hair. They are very harmful to human health, penetrating into people’s lungs and bloodstreams – and long-term effects cause the equivalent of 29,000 deaths each year.

Road Transport is the greatest contributor to PM2.5. Building work is also a major source of PM2.5 in ELL boroughs.

PM2.5: Break down of road transport

As you can see, the biggest single contributor here is brakes from petrol cars: the wear and tear of braking, clutches and tyres produces significant amounts of PM2.5 and PM10. Some estimates say it is a bigger cause of particulate pollution from vehicles than their burning of fuels. This means that even with a switch to electric cars, this pollution would remain a problem.

PM10 Emissions

PM10 is particulate air pollution of between 2.5 and 10 micrometres in size – small enough to penetrate the lungs, but not to get into the bloodstream. It is not as harmful as PM2.5 but is still damaging to people’s health.

Road transport is also the biggest contributor to PM10 in all the ELL boroughs.

CO2 Emissions

Carbon Dioxide is naturally present in the air – we breathe it out, whilst trees and plants rely on it for photosynthesis – but concentrations of it in the atmosphere are increasing due to human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.

CO2 is not thought to cause significant direct harm to health in normal quantities – however it is the major contributor to climate change, which the World Health Organisation estimates is already causing over 150,000 deaths each year.

Many measures aimed at tackling other air pollution – such as reducing car usage or insulating homes to reduce gas usage and therefore NOx emissions – will also help reduce CO2 emissions.

Key – Emissions Sources


Gas: emissions from domestic & commercial gas usage, for example, for heating, hot water, and cooking.


Other Fuels: emissions from domestic & commercial usage of fuels other than gas: for example, wood-burning stoves, increasingly popular, decrease air quality in cities.


NRMM: Non-Road Mobile Machinery – caused by diggers and construction machinery, as well as smaller items of machinery, such as garden strimmers.


C&D Dust: dust created by building work – both construction and demolition.


Resuspension: The movement of vehicles disturbs tiny dust particles from roads, which add pollution to the air. These tiny particles come from a number of sources, including wear and tear from tyres, creating air pollution.

Follow our Clear The Air series this week to find out more about the air pollution crisis in our boroughs.


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