Air pollution

Frank Kelly on air pollution

The impact of lockdown on the quality of the air we breathe.
Long before most of us gave air pollution a second thought, Frank Kelly was studying the impact of toxic particles on our lungs. In a pioneering set of experiments on human volunteers in northern Sweden, he proved that pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and particulates, are harmful to our health.   And he is the driving force behind an air quality monitoring system in London that is the envy of the world. 

When in the late 1990s, the UK government was encouraging us all to buy diesel cars to help reduce our carbon emissions, he warned that while diesel engines might be less bad for the planet than petrol engines, they were more damaging to our health. Later Frank and his team provided evidence that the car manufacturers were not telling the truth about emissions from diesel vehicles.    

As the chair of the Government Medical Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, he has worked tirelessly to try and move air pollution up the political agenda and worked closely with successive Mayors of London to improve air quality in the capital. Changing all the buses from diesel to hybrid or electric vehicles would make a huge difference, he says. But we will also need to get used to relying less on driving our cars to get us from A to B.    
Producer: Anna Buckley

City's air quality improves during pandemic

New data has shown that air quality in Cambridge city centre has improved during the lockdown, with nitrogen dioxide levels 33% lower than the average for the previous three years.


The report, about the impact of travel restrictions on traffic and air quality on the Greater Cambridge transport network was developed by the Greater Cambridge Partnership and gives an initial assessment of how people moved around the city between 16 March and 19 April.

It also shows:

  • A 56% reduction in average daily motor vehicle journeys, with significant drops in bus and delivery vehicle movements
  • Daily use across all multi-storey car parks dropped by 83%
  • An average decrease of 39% in daily cycle counts and a 26% drop in daily pedestrian counts across monitored locations – which reduced by 80% in retail areas
  • A large reduction in bus services and bus users
  • Journey times improved by an average of 27% across monitored routes

Air pollution levels in London drop by 36%

Thomas Mackintosh

BBC London News

London skyline from Greenwich

Air pollution levels have dropped by more than 35% in the capital as transport use has plummeted in the lockdown, data shows.

Preliminary analysis by experts at the University of York reveals levels of key pollutant nitrogen dioxide, which mostly comes from combustion engines in vehicles, have been significantly reduced in the past few weeks.

But there has not been the same impact on another form of toxic pollution, tiny particles known as PM2.5.

Experts say that is because the particles stay in the air longer, and are generated from more sources including agriculture and burning solid fuels which have continued during the lockdown.

But the fall in nitrogen dioxide gives a potential glimpse into the cities of the future where most transport will not be from diesel or petrol vehicles, which the government plans to phase out to tackle climate change and pollution.

According to the research, London has seen a drop of nitrogen dioxide levels by 36% compared with a five-year average for the same time of year in 2019.