Hackney and Tower Hamlets launch new app to monitor air pollution levels

Smog over London. Pic: PA

Residents in Hackney and Tower Hamlets will now be able to monitor air pollution levels in their area using a new app.

Air Aware was jointly developed by the two councils for the boroughs along with neighbouring Newham Council and involved talking with local people over the past six months to find out what information they wanted to know most about the air quality and making it accessible.

Air Aware can be viewed on mobile devices, laptops, and computers. It collates all information on air quality from the three boroughs into one place, and includes user friendly features such as a chatbot to provide verified answers to users’ direct questions, translation, and text to speak. The app also signposts locals to campaigns and initiatives that they can get involved in to tackle the issue.

The Air Aware app. Screenshot: Elishah Luke

Hackney Council also announced that to further increase access to the app, screens will be placed in different locations within the project area such as public libraries.

Mete Coban MBE, the Councillor for Stoke Newington and Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, in Hackney said on X/Twitter:

“…This tool is the first of its kind in the capital, which has been developed with local people, based on their wishes. It shows live air pollution levels and can answer lots of common questions about the effect of air pollution and how to avoid it.”

Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “Improving air quality and tackling the causes of air pollution is crucial to the health of our residents. Residents have worked alongside experts and designers to co-create this Air Aware tool, which empowers individuals to take action around air pollution.” Tower Hamlets have said that they have an extensive network of monitors collecting data on pollutants and Air Aware will help to improve public access to this vital data.  

John Whitworth, deputy cabinet member for planning and development, air quality and climate emergency in Newham, said in a statement: “Working with our neighbouring boroughs, alongside residents, partners and businesses, we are committed to creating a cleaner and greener borough for all.”

Newham council said in their statement that they also have an extensive network of monitors collecting data on pollutants, as well as becoming the first local authority in UK to launch a Climate Action Just Transition Plan, helping to address the unequal impacts of climate change on Newham’s residents last year.

Air Aware shows the seemingly more minute details such as live particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide levels, so that residents can make better choices about their level of air exposure, and thus prevent themselves from being unduly exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution, which can have detrimental effects, particularly if that exposure carries over a long period of time, according to the three councils’ statements.

The app’s development was funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and is part of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets councils’ long-term plans to tackle air pollution in accordance with the Air Quality Action Plan (Hackney & Tower Hamlets), and the Climate Action Just Transition Plan (Newham), respectively.

This comes as Friends of the Earth (FoE), are currently taking the government to court over the latter’s alleged breach of the Climate Change Act 2008 (CCA), arguing in a press release that the government’s new climate plan “is both inadequate and unlawful,” and that the proposed plan did not contain sufficient information on the risk of delivery to enable proper scrutiny by Parliament.

Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London has announced that PM2.5 air filters will be installed in around 200 London schools later this year. City Hall said that if the rollout is successful the filters could be installed in every London classroom, which certainly would include schools in Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham, and Croydon.

This has been factored into the mayor’s budget for 2024/25, which will be voted on today by the London Assembly.

Concerns over air pollution and its effect on school children had been thrust to the forefront after the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah from Lewisham in 2013, from a chronic asthma attack. She was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as one of the causes of her death. Her mother is bringing a High Court case against the government for over £290,000.

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