Citizen Science used to Map Community Air Quality
The air quality monitoring took place in several communities across London, including Putney and Highbury.
In an innovative approach to tackling air pollution, Mapping for Change has been supporting communities across London to measure and map local air quality. Using a ‘citizen science’ approach, local residents have been able to see the real results of their monitoring activity and have now embarked on a campaign to demand the seriousness of the issue be addressed.
Interested participants concerned about harmful levels of air pollution were recruited through the use of use of Twitter, local community festivals and seminars. Residents in Putney, south London, and Highbury in the north of the city took part in the study. A number of volunteers from Sustrans, a charity promoting sustainable transport, also participated. The aim was to provide communities with a way to measure air quality using low-technical methods that can be replicated across the country and can engage all sectors of the community to participate. In addition, communities want reliable localised data which they can use to lobby local government, raise awareness, generate a better understanding of the issues and with which they can compare with other relevant datasets.
The pilot comprised seven locations across London. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was selected as the focus primarily because of the affordability of the monitoring equipment. Levels of NO2, are largely from vehicle exhausts in London, and are also a strong indicator of the presence of other air pollutants derived from vehicle emissions. In each location, a series of diffusion tubes, used to measure NO2 levels, were set out across the area.The areas were divided up into grid squares to ensure there was sufficient coverage. Putney, with a total of thirty-eight sites, had the most monitoring locations. After a period of between three-to-four weeks the diffusion tubes were collected and analysed and the results mapped for each location.
The results from both Putney and Highbury indicated that levels along the main road network were up to 75% above EU limits for the period. They also highlighted several residential back-roads used as ‘rat runs’. The remaining five monitoring locations across London each comprised of one of London’s Greenways (safe, quiet routes through parks, green spaces and lightly trafficked streets) with an adjacent busy road. The results showed significantly higher NO2 levels on the roads compared with the Greenways, despite their close proximity.
Part of the community engagement process involves feeding back the results to wider community.
The first was held in Highbury and was attended by over forty local residents, the Green Party London Mayoral candidate, the Local Authority and Clean Air London Director, Simon Birkett. Jenny Jones, the Mayoral candidate, said that the results were terrifying. She did say, however, that the turnout had brought her hope and she recognised that the issue was obviously important for local communities. A Public Protection Officer from the Local Authority who attended the meeting expressed her support for the study and highlighted the difficulties they have had in engaging the public in this discourse. She welcomed any move to raise awareness at the local level. The community was shocked to learn that even if they live in quiet back streets themselves, their children are still subject to dangerously high levels of pollution.
They came up with a list of measures which they and others in the community could adopt to reduce exposure to, and production of, harmful emissions. They also listed a number of suggestions to be put forward to the Mayor and Local Authority.
Engaging communities in these citizen science activities not only raises a greater understanding of the issues linked to air pollution, it encourages participation in civic and democratic processes, giving residents a confidence to call for change.
Mapping for Change is using its online interactive Community Mapping platform to display all of the results from the citizen science activities. We are also developing a toolkit that will enable communities across the UK to engage in air quality monitoring activities.