An overview of air quality in Camden

Exposure to air pollution can damage our health at any stage in our lives. Short-term and long-term exposure to polluted air is known to cause and contribute to health conditions including respiratory (breathing) and cardiovascular (heart) illnesses. Long-term air pollution exposure causes 36,000 early deaths each year in the United Kingdom, and 4,100 in London.

We are all at risk from air pollution, but children, older people, pregnant women, and people with existing health conditions are more vulnerable than others.

Some communities are disproportionately affected by air pollution, meaning they are exposed to more air pollution and experience worse health impacts as a result.

Camden was the first local authority to commit to the ambitious World Health Organization air quality standards and our Clean Air Action Plan sets out our strategy for creating a borough in which no one suffers ill-health as a result of the air they breathe.

In the following pages, you will find out more about air quality, how we measure it, and what Camden is doing to improve air quality to protect everyone’s health.

You will also find out how you can help to reduce air pollution and your exposure to it.

What is air quality?

‘Air quality’ describes the cleanliness of the air we breathe, and ‘poor air quality’ means that the air is polluted with gases and particles which are harmful to our health.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2 or NOx)

NO2 is an invisible gas produced when fossil fuels are burned, for example, petrol and diesel in vehicle engines, and gas in boilers and gas stoves. NO2 is sometimes expressed as ‘NOx’, which includes NO2 and nitrogen oxide (NO), another gas produced at the same time as NO2.

NO2 is a respiratory irritant and can cause inflammation of the airways. This can lead to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Exposure to NO2 can reduce lung development in babies and children, which can affect lung health throughout life.

Particulate matter (PM)

Particulate matter refers to solid or liquid particles suspended in the air. PM is often written as ‘PM10’ or ‘PM2.5’; the number indicates the size of the particles in micrometres (a micrometre is one-thousandth of a millimetre). For comparison, human hair is about 50 micrometres in diameter. PM2.5 is referred to as ‘fine particulate matter’ because it is so small and can reach deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream.

The majority of PM is from human activities such as burning fossil fuels in vehicle engines, in kitchens and in open fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Outdoor fires (such as garden bonfires) are also a source of PM. PM is also produced when building materials are crushed or broken on construction sites, and by friction between surfaces such as vehicle tyres on roads.

Long-term exposure to PM increases the risk of heart and lung disease, while short-term exposure can trigger or exacerbate health conditions such as asthma. The World Health Organization does not believe there to be any safe level of exposure to PM2.5.

Air pollution and health

Long-term exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause as many as 36,000 deaths each year. Air pollution can affect everyone’s health at any stage in our lives, but children and young people, older people, and people with existing lung or heart conditions are more vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution.

Some communities are disproportionately affected by air pollution, meaning they are exposed to more air pollution and experience worse health impacts as a result. Typically in the United Kingdom deprived neighbourhoods and Black, Asian and minority ethnic populations are exposed to higher levels of air pollution. This is an environmental health inequity and Camden is committed to tackling this.

For further information about air quality and health, visit Public Health England’s information page ‘Health matters: air pollution’.

We were the first local authority to commit to achieving the World Health Organization air quality standards by 2030, and our mission is to realise Camden’s citizens’ vision for a borough in which nobody suffers ill-health as a result of the air they breathe.

Air pollution in Camden

Data from Imperial College London suggests that air pollution in Camden causes around 109 early deaths each year.

Road vehicles are the main source of air pollution in Camden, contributing 47% of NO2 emissions and 26% of PM2.5 emissions in the borough. Gas boilers are the second-largest source of pollution, contributing 42% of NO2 and 12% of PM2.5. Commercial cooking, domestic wood-burning, construction, industrial activity and diesel trains are also important sources of air pollution in Camden.

As well as affecting air quality and health locally, PM2.5 can be transported long distances from its sources and can therefore pose a health risk for a much larger population. A significant amount of the PM2.5 in Camden is from sources outside London, including from polluting activities elsewhere in the UK and in Europe.

We need to do everything we can, individually and collectively, to reduce our contribution to air pollution and our exposure to polluted air.

You can read more about what Camden Council is doing to improve air quality on the ‘Improving air quality’ page.

Measuring air quality

Due to the poor air quality throughout London, Camden and the majority of London is classified as an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA). The Council has a resulting legal duty to measure air quality and compare the results against the National Air Quality Objectives (legal limits for air pollution in the UK). In addition to the national objectives, Camden has committed to achieving the more ambitious World Health Organization air quality standards by 2030, in recognition of the serious health effects of exposure to air pollution.

We measure air quality in two different ways: with small ‘diffusion tubes’ which measure NO2 levels, and with automatic electronic sensors which measure NO2 and PM. In June 2021 we had over 200 diffusion tubes and six automatic monitoring sites throughout the borough.

Air quality in Camden is improving. NO2 levels at Camden’s automatic monitoring sites have decreased significantly during recent years, with a reduction of 30% from 2015 to 2019. PM has decreased by 11% over this period but still does not meet the World Health Organization air quality standards.

Further information about air quality monitoring, and our monitoring data, can be found on our open data webpage.

As part of our legal responsibilities, each year we review all air quality data in Camden and assess progress towards the air quality objectives. The Annual Status Reports (ASR) are submitted to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Greater London Authority. The full list of ASRs and Air Quality Assessments are available for download below.

Air quality status reports (PDFs):

Air quality assessments (PDFs):

Improving air quality

Camden’s Clean Air Action Plan 2019-2022 (CAAP) aims to improve air quality in Camden by working in with Camden's community to tackle local sources of air pollution, whilst leading by example and encouraging action on pollution sources outside of our control.

The CAAP lists over 100 actions that Camden Council and other organisations will take to reduce air pollution and protect health in Camden. These actions are split into seven priority areas which are listed below. Each linked page provides a summary of the actions under the seven priority areas, and explains how you can help to improve air quality and protect your health.

  1. Reducing construction emissions
  2. Reducing building emissions
  3. Reducing transport emissions
  4. Supporting communities and schools
  5. Reducing emissions from deliveries, servicing and freight
  6. Protecting public health and raising awareness
  7. Lobbying

You can also view our previous Clean Air Action Plan 2016-2018 and the World Health Organization Guidelines Study which helped inform the design of our current CAAP.

Reducing construction emissions

Construction activity involves the use of large machines, often powered with diesel engines, as well as processes which can cause dust to become airborne (for example from building demolition).

Construction therefore has a significant impact on local air quality and potentially public health if it is not carefully managed. Construction activity is responsible for 4% of NO2 emissions, 24% of PM10 emissions and 9% of PM2.5 emissions in Camden.

We are working to reduce air pollution emissions from construction, and our Clean Air Action Plan includes the following headline actions:

  • Enforcing non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) standards via our planning regime
  • Ensuring all major sites have a demolition management plan (DMP) and a construction management plan (CMP)
  • Ensuring all medium and high-risk sites have real-time PM monitoring on site and that the information from this monitoring is easily accessible to the public
  • Ensuring HS2 Ltd’s commitments relating to air pollution and green space are satisfied, while calling for continuous improvement in air quality management from HS2 Ltd, its contractors, and other construction sites in Camden

Here’s what you can do to help reduce air pollution emissions from construction:

  • Use our enforcement complaints e-form to report any perceived dust or air quality issues on construction sites, which will help us to respond more effectively when air quality impacts are not being properly managed on construction sites

Reducing building emissions

The burning of natural gas for heating in domestic and commercial buildings accounts for 42% of NO2 emissions and 12% of PM2.5 emissions in Camden and is also a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions in the borough, which drives the climate crisis.

Emissions can be reduced by improving building energy efficiency, which reduces the amount of gas needed for heating, and also by replacing gas heating with electric heating systems which produce no local air pollution.

Wood-burning stoves and open fireplaces are extremely polluting and significantly contribute to PM2.5 emissions in Camden.

Read more about pollution from wood-burning on our dedicated webpage: wood-burning stoves

We are working to reduce air pollution emissions from buildings, and our Clean Air Action Plan includes the following headline actions:

  • Working with Camden Climate Change Alliance to provide businesses, organisations and schools with advice on how to reduce air pollution
  • Promoting and delivering energy efficiency projects for workplaces and homes
  • Using the Camden Climate Fund to help businesses and homeowners improve building energy efficiency
  • Enforcing Air Quality Neutral and Air Quality Positive planning policies
  • Ensuring major regeneration areas such as the Kentish Town Goods Area are low emission zones
  • Continue to control emissions from permitted process via inspections and enforcement

Here’s what you can do to help reduce air pollution emissions from buildings:

  • Do not burn wood or coal at home or in your business premises, unless you have no other source of heating
  • Avoid burning garden waste
  • Consider improving the energy efficiency of your home or business by applying for the Camden Climate Fund

Many sources of local air pollution are the same sources of carbon dioxide which drives the climate crisis.

Find out more about our work to tackle the climate crisis in Camden

Reducing transport emissions

Road transport accounts for almost half of NO2 emissions and a quarter of PM2.5 emissions in Camden, as well as 14% of CO2. More specifically, 13% of NO2 is from cars, 10% is from buses, 9% is from heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), and the rest is from vans (7%), taxis (5%), coaches (3%) and motorcycles (0.2%).

Diesel trains also produce air pollution – about 6% of total NO2 and 3% of PM2.5 emissions in Camden – and although diesel rail is much more efficient than road or air transport it can still affect local air quality.

We are working to reduce air pollution emissions from transport, and our Clean Air Action Plan includes the following headline actions:

Here’s what you can do to help reduce air pollution emissions from transport:

  • Walk or cycle on your journeys if you are able to do so
  • Check whether a car club membership may be suitable for you
  • Check out the Camden Climate Change Alliance Travel Plan Guide for Business for advice on how to develop a business travel plan to reduce pollution from commuting and business travel

Supporting communities and schools

Air pollution can seriously affect the health of children and young people. 3% of children and young people in Camden under the age of 18 have been diagnosed with asthma.

We are exposed to air pollution when we travel or spend time outside our homes, including on our way to school and to work.

It is important that we understand how our health can be affected by air pollution, and how to avoid air pollution and reduce our contribution to it.

Find out more about our Clean Air for Camden campaign, including resources for you to download to help raise awareness: Clean Air for Camden

We are working to support communities and schools, and our Clean Air Action Plan contains the following headline actions:

  • Reducing pollution and pollution exposure around schools by creating Healthy School Streets
  • Delivering a Neighbourhoods of the Future low-emission zone in the Frognal and Fitzjohn’s area
  • Supporting Play Streets and temporary road closures (download our guide how to make your street car-free)
  • Supporting primary schools to enable sustainable and active travel with TfL STARS
  • Creating a borough wide traffic management order (TMO) to address avoidable pollution from vehicle engine idling
  • Leading the Idling Action London project, funded by the Mayor of London’s Air Quality Fund (see the Idling Action London website)
  • Installing electricity supply points along the Regent’s Canal near King’s Cross through our Camden Electric Moorings project, so that boaters can use clean electricity

Here’s what you can do to help support your community or school:

Reducing emissions from delivery, servicing and freight

The food we eat and the products we purchase need to be transported to our shops and homes, and our choices about what we buy and how it is delivered will have an impact upon air quality.

Online shopping and household deliveries are increasing across Camden. At the same time, economic growth is a continuous driver for freight movement in and around London. Most delivery vehicles use diesel fuel and travel significant distances. These transport movements have a disproportionate impact on air quality in Camden.

We are working to reduce emissions from deliveries, servicing and freight, and our Clean Air Action Plan contains the following headline actions:

  • Developing Camden’s Freight Action Plan
  • Promoting Camden’s freight consolidation centre
  • Reducing emissions from Camden’s own vehicle fleet, with a fleet comprising only zero-exhaust emission capable vehicles or vehicles fuelled with biomethane compressed natural gas (CNG) by the end of 2022
  • Supporting UCL to deliver a logistics plan for the Bloomsbury campus, consolidating deliveries and reducing vehicle emissions and congestion
  • Promoting the use of cargo bikes (see our webpage on Try-a-Bike loans in Camden)

Here’s what you can do to help reduce air pollution from deliveries, servicing and freight:

  • Use ‘click and collect’ services when shopping online to reduce transport pollution in residential areas
  • Choose to have your online orders sent to you in a single delivery rather than receiving multiple deliveries which will require more vehicle trips
  • Choose delivery options which prioritise the use of electric vehicles or cargo bikes

Continuing public health and awareness raising

Air pollution can affect everyone’s health at any stage in our lives. However, many people are not aware of the risks to their own health or the health of others.

It is important that we raise awareness of the impacts of air pollution on health. This involves working with Camden’s Public Health Team, hospitals, and other medical organisations to ensure that all people are aware of the health risks and the steps we can take to help protect our health.

We are working to protect public health and raise awareness about air pollution, and our Clean Air Action Plan contains the following headline actions:

  • Promoting pollution alert services such as AirText
  • Promoting cleaner air walking routes and route-mapping apps which take account of air quality such as Cross River Partnership’s Clean Air Route Finder
  • Expanding the air quality monitoring network in Camden and ensuring pollution data is publicly available (see our Camden Air Quality Monitoring open data webpage)
  • Supporting Royal Free Hospital and UCLH to implement Global Action Plan’s Clean Air Hospital Framework with funding from Camden’s Public Health Team
  • Raising awareness about the health impacts of indoor air quality at home, at school or in the workplace (see our guide for Improving Indoor Air Quality: Advice for Homes)

Here’s what you can do to help protect public health and raise awareness about air pollution:

  • Talk with your family, friends and colleagues about air pollution, especially if you think their health may be at higher risk from exposure to air pollution
  • Download, print and display our poster about air quality and health in your school or workplace, and share our flyer about wood-burning and indoor air quality

Download Air Quality and Your Health (poster) and Improving Indoor Air Quality at Home (flyer)

Lobbying

A large portion of particulate matter pollution (PM10 and PM2.5) in London comes from sources outside the city such as agriculture, power stations and forest fires, over which the Council has no direct control.

We are working to reduce air pollution emissions outside of our direct control, and our Clean Air Action Plan contains the following headline actions:

  • Calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality standards to be adopted as the legal pollution limits in the UK
  • Lobbying Government to tighten smoke control regulations to prevent the use of polluting wood and coal fuels in areas well-served by cleaner heating sources
  • Support proposals from government and industry to phase out diesel trains, and to push for this to be implemented sooner

Here’s what you can do to call for greater action on air quality in the UK:

  • Share your views by responding to consultations and participating in surveys about air pollution and policies which affect air pollution

Indoor air quality

Indoor air quality refers to the quality of the air inside our homes, workplaces and schools.

The same types of air pollutants we find outside can be found inside buildings. Indoor air quality is very important for our health because we typically spend as much as 90% of of time indoors.

Some of the main sources of indoor air pollution include cooking, gas heating, wood or coal burning, chemical cleaning products, and the glues and chemicals used in furniture, carpets and paints.

Poor indoor environmental conditions such as excessive humidity can also affect our health. Camden’s Well and Warm service provides free home energy advice visits for eligible households to help make your home warmer, more comfortable and reduce energy bills. Visit our webpages about energy efficiency grants and services and, saving energy and keeping warm to check eligibility and access other support and advice.

You can find out more about indoor air quality and learn how to make your home a healthier environment by reading our guide to Improving Indoor Air Quality: Advice for Homes

We are also producing a guide for improving indoor air quality in workplaces.