Pollution hotspot

The seaside town of Eastbourne used to tempt the likes of city dwellers to leave the urban smog in search of cleaner air. Unfortunately now, Eastbourne has been listed amongst 44 other UK towns and cities, which breach World Health Organisation’s guidelines on air quality, and has been highlighted as a ‘’pollution hotspot’’.

The new research shows that the levels of lethal particulates (PM2.5s), which are extremely small bits of liquid or solid suspended in the air, exceeds the limit of 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air in over 40 cities and towns in England and causes over 36,000 premature deaths each year. According to the research, every minute a vehicle idles, it could fill 150 balloons with toxic chemicals.

Despite sitting on the doorsteps of South Downs, Eastbourne is trapped between pollution coming from industries in London and from the continent, particularly from French factories. Eastbourne Borough and Lewes District Councils have been alarmed of the pressing issue and as Melissa Bomford, the councils’ specialist advisor on pollution has told me, they are doing everything they can to improve air quality in the area. 

Graph created by Zuzanna Marciniak

‘’In order to tackle this serious issue, Eastbourne Borough and Lewes District Councils have launched the ‘Clean Air Outside Schools’ campaign, which encourages drivers to switch off their engine while dropping off children at school, to improve air quality,’’ said Bomford and added that vehicle idling is a general problem, not just at schools.

However, the campaign launched by the two councils aims to highlight that idling engines outside schools can cause serious health problems, such as affecting children’s lung development. Both councils’ biggest goal at the moment is to change behaviour and make people aware that leaving your engine on is harmful to health and shorten their lives. 

Children, older people, pregnant women and those with respiratory and cardiovascular disease should be considered the most vulnerable. The latest research conducted by the Environment Audit Committee has shown that the cost of health impacts of air pollution is was likely to exceed estimates of £8-20 billion. 

‘’We are working very hard to improve air quality in our area,’’ says Bomford, ‘’ that’s way we want the residents to consider walking and cycling instead of using vehicles. We are taking every possible step to make sure Eastbourne meets WHO guidelines next year’’. 

Steps to improve the air quality are taken not only by Eastbourne’s officials, but also by officials from other parts of England, who have now been allowed by the Government, to issue fines for idling. Currently, fines can be given only if a driver ignores a warning and leaves their car idling for a minute, but as the Government says, this is just the beginning of holding drivers to account, for idling. 

Eastbourne and Lewes councils have installed ‘Cut Engine, Cut Pollution’ signs in the areas, which have been identified as problematic for idling. They are also part of the Sussex-air Quality Partnership and for the last two years the partnership have been successful in receiving air quality grants from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 

‘’The money granted by the Department has been very well spent by our councils. Last year we used it to deliver interventions in 25 schools and 25 businesses in Sussex, which contributed to reducing exceedances of the annual mean objective for nitrogen dioxide, caused mainly by local traffic,’’ said Bomford.

Driving is considered as one of the main reasons responsible for air pollution, as it increases its levels through combustion products or brake and tyre wear, therefore councils put particular impact on reducing the amount of vehicles on the road and switching off the engines when cars are not used, especially outside schools. 

‘’We encourage people to drive economically, by accelerating gently and adhering to speed limits. We also want to make people aware that turning off the engine and restarting it after one minute causes less pollution and uses less fuel than keeping the engine running,’’ said Bomford and added that the it is crucial to adhere to those guidelines, as the air pollution is becoming the biggest health threat of the 21st century. 

As Bomford stated, there is no “quick fix” when it comes to air quality. The air, just like the environment, is constantly changing and evolving and as a community, we have to be prepared to adjust to continuous changes. 

‘’We may get days when air pollution is higher than usual, due to a number of meteorological conditions and chemical reactions occurring in the air. We can receive ‘imported’ pollution from the Continent and also from sources such as domestic wood burning and shipping. Wind speed, wind direction and the topography of the land mass plays an important part in where air pollution ends up,’’ said Bomford. 

Eastbourne is exposed to huge amount of pollution from factories located not only in London, but also those based in other part of Europe, especially in France. Particles originate from engine emissions, brake and tyre wear, industry and natural sources such as sea salt/spray, dust, soil and pollen. They pollute English towns and cities, including Eastbourne, and affect the air we breathe every day.

‘’On top of everything,’’ says Bomford, ‘’one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world runs right next to Eastbourne, and ships burn the dirtiest kind of diesel fuel in huge quantities, which then blows into the town and pollutes the area’’.

‘’I am unable to quantify exactly how much pollution the UK receives from the Continent but approximately a third of it comes from other European countries, and that is why it is very important for the UK central government to work with other European governments, in order to improve the air quality,’’ added Bomford when asked about ways to tackle the air pollution problem.  

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