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Air pollution, your health and what you can do

Find out what air pollution is, how it can affect your health and what you can do to improve the air quality in our towns and cities.

Air pollution is a mixture of gases such as nitrogen dioxide and very small particles that have been released into the atmosphere.  Some significant sources of pollutants include the combustion of fossil fuels, including coal, oil petrol and diesel.

In the Durham City, we are working to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and man-made particles (PM10 and PM2.5) to meet the national air quality objectives.  The main source of these is traffic, particularly diesel vehicles.

Modern air pollution is mainly invisible to the human eye, at less than 10 microns (PM10)  and 2.5 microns (PM2.5) in size.  To help us picture just how small these particles are, a human hair is typically 100 micron thick, and a red blood cell 6-10 micron, making the pollutants we are concerned about no bigger than an average human red blood cell. 

Why should pollution concern you?

The air quality found across County Durham is good, with the exception of 'hotspot' areas in Durham City, where the levels of nitrogen dioxide have exceeded or are close to the national air quality objective. 

Air pollution can be harmful to all of us and every year thousands of people in the UK die prematurely due to air pollution or are admitted to hospital.  The young, elderly and people suffering from lung and heart conditions are most at risk. Some pollutants are also known to cause cancer, but their effects on people are still not fully understood.

NO2 is a gas which can irritate our eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract and is linked to both short term 'acute' effects as well as long term 'chronic' effects. As well as irritation, short term effects can also include an increase in symptoms for people with existing medical conditions such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema.

The long term effects are linked to a gradual deterioration in the health of people with lung disease, as well as increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Which pollutants are the main concerns?

The main air quality pollutants that concern us are NO2 and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5). Traffic is typically responsible for 50 - 70% of NO2 in our towns and cities, although this varies according to our proximity to roads and other sources of pollution. 

How can we help to reduce pollution?

Simple ways to help reduce air pollution outlines a number of steps most households and businesses can take to help reduce air pollution.

Where do we have Air Quality Management Areas in place?

Air quality in Durham City

The Air Quality Management Area that was previously declared in Chester-le-Street has now been revoked since the results of the monitoring show that levels of nitrogen dioxide are consistently below the annual mean air quality objective - Air quality in Chester-le-Street.

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