Action needed to make sure our quality of air improves

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We have long argued that having fewer cars on the roads – usually in the context of calling for improved public transport or cycling infrastructure – would benefit everyone in Portsmouth.

Today, however, we turn our attention to a different peril that is linked to the roads – that of air quality.

Firstly, it must be said, that this is a complicated subject in which even the raw data has to be subject to several caveats. Readings from the measurement-taking kits around the city are subject to many variables, therefore averages are of more value than individual recordings.

However, there are certainly several facts that can be agreed on. One is that cars are responsible for the bulk of both particulates or nitrogen dioxide, and consequently have the biggest – but not only – contribution to air quality.

Secondly, air quality has a direct affect on human life – in 2012, mortality attributable to particulate air pollution was estimated as 5.3 per cent in Portsmouth – above the south east average of 5.1 per cent.

If you’re healthy, short-term exposure to poor air quality won’t affect you much. But long-term exposure is a different matter – breathing in pollutants over many years can making lung complaints worse and cause cancers.

Now, we’re not saying that Portsmouth, though it has a port and is surrounded by motorways, is much worse than other places in the country. And, like a lot of airs, long-term planning is beginning to pay off and on several measurements air quality is improving – or at least, not getting worse. However, when the city’s director of public health says at a meeting that ‘air pollution is a serious problem in Portsmouth’ and that ‘we are at a level that is nearing unsafe’, we ought to sit up and take notice.

Janet Maxwell’s prescription is that we need fewer cars in Portsmouth. She’s right, of course, but the diagnosis much harder than making that wish a reality. We hope, however, that the issue of air quality is kept in the public eye – it’s a factor that needs highlighting.