Agenda item

Air Quality Update


The Scientific Officer (Air Quality) presented the report. The Chair welcome the Scientific Officer to the Committee and thanked him for the depth and detail of his report. The Committee discussed the sources of emissions in the District and reviewed the context of the report, making comment and asking questions of various parts of the report:


Data monitoring

In response to a question, officers advised that the three continuous monitors, which were DEFRA approved, in the District took readings and reported data every hour, with officers having access to the data at any time. This data could be reviewed to assess the impact of specific events on air quality in the areas in which the monitors operated, and officers advised that annual reports were also produced to allow for annual analysis.


With regard to the Zephyr sensors, officers advised that data was collected approximately every 15 seconds, which allowed officers to access both granular data and averages over longer time periods. Officers advised that the Zephyr sensors were not DEFRA approved, and as such data from these sensors could not be used in annual reports to DEFRA, but officers advised that the data from these sensors was similar to that produced by the continuous monitors and that officers had a high level of confidence in the data produced by the Zephyr sensors.


Appendix A- Figure 5

Officers clarified that different sites had different monitors/sensors in place but that they all recorded particulate matter data (PM2.5) over the same timeframe. The Committee was informed that the dark blue, orange and grey lines (Harston, Impington and Northstowe respectively) represented data recorded by continuous monitors, the yellow line (Girton) represented data recorded by a Zephyr monitor and that the light blue line (Wicken Fen) represented data recorded by a DEFRA background monitor. The Committee was informed that the data was broadly consistent across the sites as pollution was typically dominated by regional events and notable temporary variances between sites (such as the spike in Harston) was likely a result of a localised event.


Data from the Air Quality in England (AQE) database

A question was raised on the fact that on the AQE database, no data was recorded from the continuous monitor in Harston. Officers advised that, since the new monitors had been installed, a 3rd party company was being used to collect the data and that the company had not yet provided the data gathered to AQE. Officers advised that contact had been made to the company to query this matter and request that the data was uploaded and backdated, but officers were still awaiting response.


Particulate emissions from vehicles

Discussion was held over non-exhaust emissions of vehicles and whether the increased weight of electric vehicles (EVs) could result in higher levels of non-exhaust particulate materials. Officers referred to a 2019 report from the Air Quality Expert Group showed that, at the time, 40% of particulate emissions from vehicles were from exhaust, with the remaining emissions being produced by brake and tyre wear. Officers acknowledged that increased uptake of EVs could lead to a small increase of tyre particulate emissions, but that any such increase would be greatly outweighed by the reduction in exhaust emissions and reduced brake particulate emissions due to the regenerative braking commonly utilised by electric vehicles. Officers referred to a report from the RAC which investigated the impact of increased EV usage on particulate emissions. Officers also advised that measurements of particulate matter in the region covered a variety of emission sources and data could not identify, for example, the amount of PM2.5 produced by vehicle tyres on a local level.


Cross-boundary particulate pollution

The challenges of managing particulate pollution across authority boundaries were discussed. Officers highlighted the importance of each local authority taking responsibility for emissions in their own area, which would create a cumulative impact on both a national and regional scale, and the need for cooperation between neighbouring local authorities through approaches such as a joint Greater Cambridge Air Quality Strategy.


Comparative harm of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM2.5 emissions

In response to a question on the context and harms of NO2 emissions in comparison to PM2.5 emissions, officers advised that exposure PM2.5 emissions were more harmful to individuals in the long term. Members were advised that PM2.5 emissions led to ultra-fine particles entering the bloodstream via the lungs and crossing over into other parts of the body, such as the brain, and that these particles were hard for the body to remove. As such, the cumulative impact of inhaling such particles could lead to diseases and illnesses. Officers acknowledged that NO2 harms were also significant and that the Council would seek to tackle the harms of all emissions through air quality management practices.


World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines

A question was raised on the feasibility of meeting the targets of the WHO Air Quality Guidelines if the Council were to adopt them as the air quality standard to work to across Greater Cambridge. Officers acknowledged that the targets set out in the WHO Guidelines were challenging to meet, with ~99% of global population living in areas where PM2.5 levels exceeded the targets set out, but that it was important for the Council to pursue the targets even if they were ambitious and difficult to achieve. The Committee was advised that officers intended to set interim air quality targets which were achievable in the shorter term and could be used as a platform to progress towards meeting the WHO targets.


The Committee discussed adopting targets as challenging as those set out by the WHO Guidelines and agreed that, given the importance of the issue and the health impacts of pollution, it was appropriate to adopt such ambitious targets.


Vehicle idling and Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Members discussed how vehicle idling could be tackled. With the introduction of Civil Parking Enforcement Agents in the District, Members enquired as to if the Parking Agents could hand out leaflets to drivers containing information on the harms of vehicle idling in an effort to discourage the action. Officers advised that this could be possible and was an action that would be taken away for review.


The Committee discussed the recommendations laid out in the report and, by affirmation:

a)    Agreed that it had reviewed and commented upon the updates to the Air Quality Strategy.

b)    Noted the conclusions of the use of Public Space Protection Orders and agreed to recommend that the Lead Cabinet Member for Environmental Services progress with a positive engagement campaign rather than enforcement of vehicle idling.

c)    Agreed to recommend that the Lead Cabinet Member for Environmental Services progress an early revision of the South Cambridgeshire District Council Air Quality Strategy as a joint Greater Cambridge Air Quality Strategy with Cambridge City Council, with the finalised strategy coming before Committee in Spring 2024.

d)    Agreed to recommend that the Lead Cabinet Member adopt WHO Air Quality Guidelines as the air quality standard to work towards across Greater Cambridge.


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