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The Air We Breathe

In recent months you may have noticed a growing number of reports in the media about traffic pollution in the UK.  Research studies suggest that inhaling traffic exhaust fumes can damage people’s health more severely than scientists had previously imagined, with young children particularly at risk.  As it happens, the A2 at Ospringe is the most polluted site in the Borough.  Conditions in some of Britain’s larger cities are worse, but this is a place where mothers with schoolchildren (and babies in buggies) habitually queue at the signal crossing on their way to and from the Ospringe Church of England Primary School in Water Lane.  Here, the A2 dips down towards the Maison Dieu.  The crossing lies at the foot of a depression where the road is narrow, the footways are narrow, and the housing frontage on either side forms a ‘canyon’ that hampers the dispersal of polluted air.  Among other sites on the A2, the Borough Council has declared Ospringe Street an ‘Air Quality Management Area’ (AQMA), and is charged with the responsibility for doing something about it.  It is an unenviable task because the Borough has no powers to control or manage the traffic on this road.  

In the early part of 2018, building work along the north side of Ospringe Street effectively put the Borough’s monitoring station out of action for many months.  Given the recent spate of planning applications for housing development on the north side of the A2 together with the expansion of activities on the EKR site at Oare, members of the Faversham Society Board became concerned that the resulting traffic growth could make matters significantly worse during the next five to ten years.  There were also concerns about the way information is normally collected.  Samples are normally collected 2 metres above the ground, whereas the nitrogen oxide gases and carbon particles can be more concentrated lower down, in the air that children breathe.  During summer, it was decided to carry out independent monitoring to check what was happening.  The aims were firstly to check the pollution levels at Ospringe, and secondly to extend coverage to more roads across the Town.  We were fortunate in obtaining advice and practical help from University of Kent Centre of Health Services Studies under the direction of Professor Stephen Peckham, together with technical manager Dr Ashley Mills, and our results will be calibrated against the Borough measurements supervised by Mr Stephen Wilcox.

There are two main components of exhaust pollution and they are measured in two different ways.  The first is a cocktail of nitrogen oxide gases, which is measured by a chemical marker contained in a small plastic tube mounted over the footway and left for several weeks before being removed and sent off for analysis.  The process must be repeated at monthly intervals for around ten months.  Altogether, tubes were installed at seven different locations around the Town where no samples had previously been taken.

The second component consists of carbon particles - very fine grains of soot that are emitted mainly by diesel engines.  These are measured using electronic laser equipment that gives an instant reading and also stores the results for statistical analysis in the lab.  We hired from the University two types of electronic instrument.  The first was a back-pack containing a GPS system and digital radio.  It was carried daily around the Town by Chris Oswald-Jones, providing an almost continuous read-out that was relayed directly to the University for analysis.  The second was a set of four ‘static’ instruments, two of which, unusually, were able to measure the smallest carbon particles down to 2.5 micrometres in diameter.  It’s these very small particles that scientists are now beginning to worry about.  For two weeks after the beginning of the autumn term, a team of nine volunteers took turns to carry out sampling each weekday morning and each weekday afternoon when the levels of pedestrian movement to and from the school were at their highest.  One station was located on the A2 in Ospringe Street next to the official sampling stations, and the other a little way inside Water Lane.

The carbon particulate results are now being analysed.  As expected, preliminary results show that the level of pollution for the larger carbon particles were ‘poor to very poor’, being less than the legally binding EU limits but higher than the World Health Organisation guidelines.  The results for the smaller carbon particles weren’t quite so bad.  There won’t be any results from the nitrogen oxides tubes until December 2018.  In the meantime, members may be interested to know that the Borough’s own monitoring ‘tubes’ are back in action, alongside a newly-refurbished national government monitoring station on the north side of Ospringe Street.  

The next challenge will be more difficult, and that is to work with the Borough representatives and local organisations to find ways of reducing the impact of exhaust pollution at the most badly affected site, the A2 at Ospringe.  Lorry traffic is not the only issue: some saloon car models emit more pollutants than a well-maintained 8-wheel articulated truck.  We believe there is potential for improving conditions at Ospringe by encouraging people to change the way they their travel – not least because the level of pollution inside a saloon car is typically higher than the level on the footway outside.  Special thanks are due to the members of the monitoring team: Frances Beaumont, Pauline Gerosa, Ray Harrison, Gulliver Immink, Debbie Lawther, Louise Lees, Simon MacLachlan, Ben J Martin, Chris Oswald-Jones, Amanda Russell, and Graham Warner. 

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The Faversham Society - Registered Address: 10-13 Preston Street, Faversham, Kent ME13 8NS

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