Air pollution kills more than 500 people each year in Northern Ireland with Belfast the third most polluted in the UK for cancer-causing PM2.5 particles, according to IQAir’s 2019 World Air Quality Report.
Now a new air pollution site can tell you what the levels are like at your own front door, while showing what percentile your homes falls into compared with others.
Addresspollution.org uses the latest and most accurate air pollution data from Imperial College to show whether the air at your house breaches World Health Organization limits of fine particulate matter like PM2.5 and PM10 which can cause a range of health problems.
Read more:Dad left ‘gasping’ on school run calls for urgent action on air pollution
The man behind it told Belfast Live the idea is to show people how a big a problem we have with the air we breathe with air quality at 97% of UK home breaching at least one WHO limit for toxic pollutants.
Central Office of Public Interest founder Humphrey Milles, said: “The reaction has been phenomenal really. We are just giving away data to people but this is the most accurate and detailed air pollution data to date.
“An awareness campaign is the point of the service. The first stage of solving any problem is people understanding that we’ve got a problem and we definitely have a problem with air pollution on multiple levels.
“One of them is public and the other one is climate change. What we are hoping to come out of this is increased public awareness and driving the demand for action.
“Air pollution affects all of us. It’s a group one cause of cancer, just like asbestos. With this new accurate data now publicly available, it would be shameful for the property industry to not start acting transparently. Lives depend on it. Everyone has a right to know what they’re breathing before they buy or rent. And of course, we have our own part to play in this too. Air pollution isn’t insurmountable and we can all do something about it.”
The World Health Organisation’s specialist cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified outdoor air pollution and one of its major components, particulate matter (PM), as carcinogenic to human beings in 2013.
But almost a decade on Northern Ireland still has high levels of air pollution in many areas while the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has failed to deliver a Clean Air Strategy.
PM2.5 is called such because the tiny cancer-causing particles are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. As well as being a cancer threat, they can also cause asthma, respiratory inflammation and jeopardy lung function. The World Health Organization limit for PM2.5 is set at 5mcg/m3 but in Northern Ireland the legal limit sits at 25 mcg/m3.
PM10, which is a little bigger at 10 micrometers in diameter, can cause wheezing, bronchitis, reduce lung development and is also considered carcinogenic. The WHO limit for this particulate is 15mcg/m3 while NI’s legal limit is 40 mcg/m3 as an annual mean and 50 mcg/m3 in 24 hours.
Another air pollutant which can cause harm and often exceeds WHO levels is Nitrogen dioxide (N02). “Long term exposure to even low levels of this toxic gas increases mortality rates and contributes to the development of asthma, and other respiratory issues,” according to Addresspollution.org.
The average WHO recommended limit for N02 was cut from 40mcg/m3 to 10mcg/m3 last year, after the organization completed five years of research on air pollution.
WHO’s program manager, Dorota Jarosińska, said when they were introduced: “These are very ambitious public health recommendations and achieving the guideline levels would be the ultimate goal, but all the steps towards it are critical.
“Every step you make towards improving air quality brings health benefits.
“We feel confident these are really robust,” added Ms Jarosińska. “But these levels absolutely do not mean we are confident that there is no harm.”
You can see how the air quality measures up around your home for free by clicking here. Addresspollution.org, which is supported by campaign group the Central Office of Public Interest, is urging people in Northern Ireland to demand action on the damaging issue by signing their petition on the issue as well.
“Air pollution is a killer, just like asbestos,” read a statement on the site.
“We’re calling on estate agents and websites like Rightmove and Zoopla to act lawfully and disclose air pollution ratings on all property listings.
“Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to public health and, like asbestos, is a cause of cancer.
“People need to know. Everyone has a right to know what they’re breathing.”
Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, special advisor on air quality to the Royal College of Physicians said: “Air pollution is an invisible killer, and because you can’t see it it’s easy for people to forget and ignore.
“It’s essential the public are given air pollution data for where they are thinking of buying or renting. In many cases like that of little Ella, it can be a matter of life or death.’
Northern Ireland currently has just 23 air quality monitors – which work to much higher legal limits than the WHO recommends. We reported in December how a Belfast docks fires caused huge spike in most harmful levels of air pollution in December.
But even without such adverse incidents, people in other parts of the city report being impacted by the air they breathe.
Non-smoker Keith Gray told us last year he would like to see real action on the toxic air that confines him indoors “more often than not” when household fires are lit and cars used more in winter.
Our health chiefs admit the issue cost £825m across all Stormont departments from 2017-2025 but still no action has been taken while over the border, the Republic of Ireland government has introduced a ban on burning smoky fuels from September.
DAERA has been contacted for a comment.
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