Taking a Deep Breath: event links and comment

On 10th June 2021 Professor Rosie McEachan, director of Born in Bradford, was the main contributor to ‘Taking a Deep Breath’, describing the impact of traffic pollution on health, and Born in Bradford’s work to evaluate the Clean Air Zone. Please have a look at the event introduction, short film and Rosie’s presentation here (altogether 54 minutes), the written summary of the questions, answers and discussion here, and Rosie’s slides here.

This post introduces the presentation by a very brief overview, and lists some limitations of the Clean Air Zone observed during the discussion.

Rosie described the impact of air pollution, now mainly from traffic emissions, on health. A quarter of Bradford’s childhood asthma has been attributed to poor air quality.  Air quality is also implicated in cancer, stroke, children born with low birthweight and a whole host of other health outcomes. The poorest areas are the worst affected. The aim of the Council’s government-funded Clean Air Plan and Zone is to bring air quality within legal limits across the District. The Zone covers all Bradford within the ring road, and the valley up to and including Shipley. It is due to start early in 2022.

Born in Bradford’s role is to provide an independent evaluation of how air quality changes with the introduction of the Clean Air Zone. They will use not only their own work but also health data for all Bradford residents, air quality monitoring from Council sensors already in place and from pupils in 12 schools inside and outside the Clean Air Zone, who will wear sensors on their journey between home and school. A survey on the attitudes and behaviour of Bradford residents to air quality is already providing contextual information.

All those involved would be delighted if the Clean Air Plan and Zone improve air quality not only for Nitrogen Dioxide which is currently above legal limits in some areas, but also for other emissions and particulate matter. The evaluation will show whether this is the case, and its results will indicate best practice for other cities’ implementation of Clean Air Zones.

As Anna Watson, Shipley Town Councillor and facilitator of the event stressed, Bradford is privileged to have the scientific expertise and experience to allow this evaluation by the Bradford Institute for Health Research and Born in Bradford.

Some questions were raised about other developments such as the Bradford-Shipley road scheme’s  increase in traffic, and the dangers that would remain even if air quality were within legal limits. These questions are summarised here, without reducing the positive contribution of the evaluation from Born in Bradford which had event participants’ fulsome support.

  • The Clean Air Zone is dictated by government funding which is limited to be the least stringent regulation that will bring the District’s pollution levels with UK legal limits on nitrogen dioxide. It is not aimed at bringing air quality to a considerably better level than the dirtiness which is inside the law. Policies aimed at climate survival or healthy clean air, need further actions.
  • The CAZ funding does not give car owners support to change their vehicles to cleaner engines, or to leave their car at home. Inequality of access to non-polluting transport is not addressed, because people on low incomes can less afford it. Funding to allow the poorest to have cleaner cars and use different modes of transport would be a major contribution to cleaner air that is not within this government clean air policy.
  • Monitoring the CAZ will monitor the overall impact of the CAZ and all other interventions that happen at the same time. It is not a tightly controlled experiment where nothing else is changing at the same time. These changes may include the disruption of building a new Bradford-Shipley traffic route, bus improvements, and other changes. To the extent that statistical modelling cannot disentangle the impact of different interventions, the relevance of the results for other places will be weakened.

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