Air quality improving, but ozone levels fluctuate

A government report out shortly will show that overall, the UK’s air quality is improving, although problems persist with ozone pollution in rural areas.

Provisional air quality indicators for 2002 show that in urban areas air pollution was recorded as moderate or higher on 14 days on average per site, down from 24 days the previous year. In rural areas, the average was 23 days, compared with 30 days in 2001, although the number of days with moderate or high pollution has fluctuated between 19 days in 1987 and 48 days in 1990, with no clear trend.

Air quality minister Alun Michael said the long-term trend showed an improvement, but added there was still work to be done to tackle pollution. The government’s headline indicators cover levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, fine particles and sulphur dioxide, which can vary depending on weather conditions.

The number of days caused by ozone pollution has fluctuated in both rural and urban areas, with no overall trend being evident, although an exceptionally hot summer in 1999 led to the greatest number of days of ozone pollution since 1991, says the Department of Environment.

Michael announced the provisional figures while visiting Camden Council, which is bringing in 210 battery and gas-powered vehicles and 100 ultra-low sulphur diesel-powered vehicles, 29 of which will be fitted with particle traps.

The parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee recently criticised the government for its selective use of data and criteria in headline indicators (see related story).

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