Much media coverage in the past few days of how air pollution levels have dropped over Europe since the Coronavirus lockdowns came into place, and most recently in the UK (see the BBC coverage from yesterday)

I know there isn’t much going on except for the virus at the moment, but really, does this classify as news? If they think so, I have another top story for them – ‘Man turns off faucet, water stops running’.

More than 50% of Nitrogen Dioxide pollution over Europe comes from transport. Stop people travelling, and levels go down. Obviously.

A much better question would be ‘what will happen when the lockdowns are no longer in place?’ I suspect that because people (and organisations) are creatures of habit, nearly all previous activity will resume and pollution levels will just go back up. In fact, the only reductions will likely result from the reduced levels of economic activity because of the severe recession that we’ll be experiencing.

Air pollution is estimated to cause 500,000 deaths every year in Europe; 10% of those are in the UK. It also impacts the lives of tens of millions more. Yet despite that, we don’t see widespread action taken to protect people. No country yet even ensures that pollution is properly measured or communicated in real-time – particularly important for the more vulnerable among us. The old, and those with underlying health conditions – sound familiar? In fact, the main difference between air pollution and the coronavirus would appear to be that pollution can impact young people from birth just as much if not more than adults.

Perhaps we should reclassify pollution as a pathogen against which humans have no immunity – would governments start to take it more seriously then?

Digital Jersey, Growth Housing and Environment (GHE) and AirSensa are planning a pilot to measure the air quality (AQ) in near real-time across Jersey as part of Digital Jersey’s Sandbox concept.

AirSensa is a UK based company specialising in the collection and analytics of air quality and other environmental data sets in order to enable individuals, governments and industry to make informed choices.

They approached Digital Jersey earlier this year having seen the Sandbox promotional material and quickly realised that Jersey would be the perfect location to construct a mesh of sensors in order to gain a full AQ picture across an entire jurisdiction.

Digital Jersey made introductions to GHE’s Environmental Health department having partnered with them in the past and with their help, the three parties have put together a project plan to initially roll out AQ sensors in 30 carefully selected locations including schools.

AirSensa’s core product measures Ozone, NOx, CO2, particulates 2.5/10um, temperature and humidity but has the potential to include other environmental sensors at a later date.

Tony Moretta, Chief Executive of Digital Jersey said “We are really excited to be able to announce this project with GHE and AirSensa, it demonstrates once again that the concept of Jersey being used as a testbed is attractive to technology companies and can be used to benefit all parties and the Island community as a whole.  It is fantastic that we will be able to collect real-time air quality data in order that people can make informed decisions on how, where and when they may travel, but will also allow government to make data-driven policy decisions on things like sustainable transport.”

Stewart Petrie, Environmental Health Consultant at GHE said “This is a really exciting project and will eventually result in 300 real-time air quality sensors being installed across the Island.  The air quality data provided by these sensors will be accessible to all on the website, will assist in evidence-based policy decisions and will better inform Islanders of the air quality around Jersey.  Officers from Environmental Health and eco active teams are also working on an educational package for schools.”

Jonathan Steel, Chief Executive of AirSensa Ltd. said “We’re delighted to be working with Digital Jersey and the Jersey Government to create the first hyperlocal real-time air quality monitoring network to cover an entire jurisdiction.  Air pollution directly impacts economic performance and quality of life around the world, so It’s exciting to see a government so close to home taking a lead in this way.  This first step of 30 sensors will allow us to demonstrate some early insights, while planning the remaining rollout of both air quality and other sensor types.”

Research from Queen Mary University of London has shown once again the vital importance of getting real air pollution data at hyperlocal level, continuously, and in real time.

As the BBC reported:

“Regular exposure to even low levels of air pollution may cause changes to the heart similar to those in the early stages of heart failure, experts say.

A study of 4,000 people in the UK found those who lived by loud, busy roads had larger hearts on average than those living in less polluted areas.

This was despite the fact people in the study were exposed to pollution levels below the UK guidelines.”

AirSensa’s solution for hyperlocal monitoring can deliver the guidance needed to help people avoid as much air pollution as possible – and research like this is showing why it’s so important.

The story can be seen at

As part of AirSensa’s plan to establish large demonstration meshes to showcase low-cost monitoring in major cities, AirSensa will roll out its first City Demonstration Mesh (CDM) in Manchester over the next few months.  Transport for Greater Manchester will work with AirSensa, three local universities, and a range of other partners to install a network of 200 AirSensa pollution sensor units to monitor key air pollutants in real time.

The project focuses on a number of specific use-cases that will allow TfGM to investigate the value of hyperlocal air quality data and its application to transport planning.

A report by think-tank IPPR North published in June 2018 noted that 1.6m life years will be lost to people living in Greater Manchester over the coming century unless urgent action is taken, while the annual cost of air pollution to the local economy tops £1billion.  In addition, the report found that Central Manchester has the highest rate of hospital admissions for asthma in the country, followed by North Manchester, and linked the prevalence of the condition to particulate vehicle pollution.

AirSensa’s ambition is to make granular real-time monitoring of air quality available for the first time – installing thousands of units in cities and urban environments across UK, and Europe. Through its unique STORRM platform, AirSensa will collect, analyse and disseminate this data to individuals, businesses and policymakers.  This technology offers a sea-change in how we can tackle air pollution, both in terms of helping people avoid its worst effects, and in developing effective interventions and solutions.

From the BBC’s programme description:

“The UK government says air pollution is the fourth biggest threat to public health after cancer, obesity and heart disease.  We speak to a father whose daughter was rushed to hospital with breathing problems – he blames poor air quality. We’ll find out what the authorities are doing to try and reduce congestion.

Ministers have also committed to ending the sale of new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040. But will we really all be driving around in electric cars?  A survey commissioned by You and Yours from YouGov suggests many people in the UK still aren’t ready to make the switch.”

You can hear the whole programme while it’s still available at:

AirSensa has established an advisory council of experts in fields and industries that align with the Company’s interests, including:

  • Michael Brockman
  • Professor Pali Hungin OBE DL MD FRCP FRCGP FRSA
  • Dr Peter Biesenbach
  • Anthony Bouchier

Mike Brockman founded Insure The Box Limited in 2009.  In March 2015, ANDIE, the European arm of Asian insurance giant MS&AD, acquired 75% of Box Innovation Group Limited for £105 million, the holding company of Insure The Box Limited and BIG Telematics. In January 2018, Michael founded “ThingCo”, a brand which reflects how to leverage data from the Internet of Things.

Professor Pali Hungin is a former President of the British Medical Association (2016/17).  He has been Foundation Dean of Medicine at Durham University and Head of School since 2002, was appointed OBE in 2000, and in 2008 became Deputy Lieutenant for County Durham.

Dr Peter Biesenbach spent much of his career in senior roles at the Federation of German Industries (BDI), culminating in his role as Senior Vice President and Executive Director Foreign Economic Affairs and International Relations.  Dr Biesenbach then spent 10 years at Robert Bosch GmbH as Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Department External Affairs and Governmental and Political Relations.

Anthony Bouchier has more than 30 years’ experience in building enterprises in international television and media, starting his career at IMG, before creating Wisden Online in 2003, and, in 2009, Twig World, a digital education company that works closely with the BBC and Imperial College London, distributing content to more than 3,000 schools in the UK and a further 200,000 schools across 70 countries in 19 languages.

Read more about our advisory council and the rest of the senior AirSensa team on our Partners page.

According to a report recently published by Unicef ‘A Breath of Toxic Air’, more than 4.5 million children – almost a third of under-18s – in the UK are growing up in areas with toxic levels of small particulate air pollution, including 1.6 million under-fives and 270,000 babies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 70% of towns and cities in the UK have unsafe levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). 

The Unicef report relates to the World Health Organisation’s recommended limit of 10µg/m3 set in 2005 (as opposed to the EU legal limit which is 25µg/m3).

Air pollution may be invisible, but it’s incredibly dangerous for children. Breathing toxic air can damage their growth and leave them with lasting health problems. Unborn babies, newborns and young children are particularly vulnerable because their bodies are still developing.

PM2.5 refers to tiny particles of pollution in the air that have a diameter less than 2.5 µm, smaller than the width of a human hair.  These tiny particles are the most dangerous for our health as they’re able to penetrate deep into our lungs, and potentially even into our bloodstream and our brains. For babies and young children, these health effects are even more acute. Exposure to toxic particulates during these critical early stages of development can leave a child with stunted lungs, respiratory conditions like asthma, and reduced brain development.

Amy Gibbs, at Unicef UK, said: “The findings force us to face a shocking reality about the acute impact on children’s health. Worryingly, one third of our children could be filling their lungs with toxic air that puts them at risk of serious, long-term health conditions.

“It’s unacceptable that the most vulnerable members of society, who contribute the least to air pollution, are the ones suffering most from its effects,” she said. “The government must accept this is a children’s health crisis and offer targeted action and funding to reduce their exposure.”

The Unicef report comes not long after the UK government lost the latest in a round of legal actions brought around air quality, specifically Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).  The government has lost three times in the high court for failing to deal with illegal levels of NO2 and is now being taken to Europe’s highest court.

The European Commission recently published a paper to accompany its decisions on improving air quality, titled ‘A Europe that protects: Clean air for all’.

“Air pollution is a cause of both chronic and serious diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular problems and lung cancer,” the paper said.

But is the commission’s policy actually leading to clean air for all?

On 17 May, the EU’s environment commissioner, Maltese politician Karmenu Vella, announced that the commission had referred six EU members to court – France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom.  The move is part of the EU’s infringement procedure, which is the commission’s main legal tool to get member states in line with EU law.

At a press conference in Brussels, Vella said that plans the six countries had proposed in the previous months were insufficient to bring down levels of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

“We have waited for compliance – some of the PM compliance had to be in 2005, the NO2 compliance had to be in 2010, so I think we’ve waited a long time,” said Vella.  “We cannot possibly wait any longer,” he added.

Three other EU countries – Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Spain – were asked to send in new air quality plans, but escaped a court referral, the measures these three announced would improve air quality “in a reasonable time frame”.

The Health and Environment Alliance (Heal), a Brussels-based non-profit lobby group, remains unconvinced.  “We consider this a half-hearted approach, and think that with this double standard in pursuing air pollution, EU commissioner Vella sends the wrong message to Europe’s citizens, as everyone in the whole of Europe has a right to clean air and to having their health protected,” said Heal’s director for strategy and campaigns Anne Stauffer.

Looking at the World Health Organisation’s recently updated colour-coded map of particulate matter pollution, one of the worst areas is northern Italy, which explains why Italy would be referred to court.  But the situation is equally bad in Slovakia and parts of the Czech Republic, which have for now avoided court referral.

And while the focus has been on these nine EU countries, since their ministers were invited for an air quality ministerial summit in Brussels last January, citizens in other EU countries also suffer from poor air quality. 

In addition to the Nine, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and Slovenia are also on the receiving end of the infringement procedure.  These ten additional countries have too high NO2 levels, too high PM levels, or both.  But according to the commission’s infringement database, no new formal steps have been taken in several years.

Some pupils in London are being taught in classrooms where air is so polluted it breaches World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, a study has found.  In some cases, the report found that pollution levels inside the schools were higher than outside.  Sadiq Khan wants the funds to allow schools to make “immediate changes”.  A review of existing studies concluded that “children living or attending schools near high traffic density roads were exposed to higher levels of motor vehicle exhaust gases, and had higher incidence and prevalence of childhood asthma and wheeze”.

The study, by University College London and the University of Cambridge, found differences in pollution levels between classrooms depended on a range of factors, including building characteristics, design and maintenance.  The published findings follows a series of audits which were launched last year and completed with a set of recommendations for schools across 23 boroughs. Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, said she was pleased to see London’s air pollution problem being addressed.  “We know that air pollution can stunt the growth of children’s lungs, and is linked to asthma and chronic chest problems later in life.”