Local air quality management

Air quality policy

The National Air Quality Strategy

The UK 1995 Environment Act required the development of an Air Quality Strategy for the UK and a system of local air quality management. This setts legally binding air quality limit values for a number of air pollutants in line with European legislation.

Seven of these pollutants: nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter (PM10), sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and lead have to be addressed at the local level. The other two pollutants: ozone and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are being tackled by national and European Union measures.

The air quality objectives specify concentrations for each pollutant in outdoor air covering different time periods. For example, annual or daily, depending on how the pollutant affects health, to be achieved by given dates.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) revised the Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2007. This outlined the Government’s new policies for improving air quality in the UK. The strategy introduces controls on human exposure to fine particles (PM2.5) to complement the existing limits on PM10. Fine particles have been recognised as the most concerning in terms of impacts on public health.

Local authorities have no statutory obligation to review and assess air quality for the new air quality objectives for PM2.5. The revised Air Quality Strategy acknowledges the links between air quality and climate change, and recommends a joined up approach is taken to improving local air quality and tackling climate change.

Table 1: Air Quality Objectives as set in the UK Air Quality Strategy

Pollutant Air Quality Objectives Date To Be Achieved By
Concentration Measured as
Particles (PM10) 50 µg/m3 not to be exceeded more than 35 times a year 24 hour mean 31.12.2004
40 µg/m3 Annual mean 31.12.2004
Particles (PM2.5) 25 µg/m3 Annual mean 2020
Target of 15% reduction in concentrations at urban background Annual mean Between 2010 and 2020
Nitrogen dioxide 200 µg/m3 not to be exceeded more than 18 times a year 1 hour mean 31.12.2005
40 µg/m3 Annual mean 31.12.2005
Carbon monoxide 10 mg/m3 Running 8-hour mean 31.12.2003
Sulphur dioxide 350 µg/m3 not to be exceeded more than 24 times a year 1 hour mean 31.12.2004
125 µg/m3 not to be exceeded more than 3 times a year 24 hour mean 31.12.2004
266 µg/m3 not to be exceeded more than 35 times a year 15 minute mean 31.12.2005
Benzene 5 µg/m3 Annual mean 31.12.2010
1,3-Butadiene 2.25 µg/m3 Running annual mean 31.12.2003
Lead 0.5 µg/m3 Running annual mean 31.12.2004
0.025 µg/m3 Running annual mean 31.12.2008
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