Air Quality: Working to improve air quality in the West Midlands
Up to 2,300 people die early due to long term exposure to air pollution every year in the West Midlands.
Clean air is essential to our health and wellbeing, as well as the environment. And that’s why we’re working hard to create safe air quality for everyone in the West Midlands.
What is air quality and why does it matter?
Air quality is how we describe how clean or polluted the air around us is. It gives an indication of how healthy the environment is that we are living in.
Poor air quality has significant impact on people’s health and wellbeing. It is also detrimental to the environment.
This was recognised by Sir Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, when he made air pollution the subject of his annual report in 2022.
Importantly, he recognised that: ‘Everyone is affected by air pollution, and it is everyone’s problem’.
The government measures air pollution in PM2.5 concentrations and has set some targets as part of the Environment Act (2021).
These targets are for the annual mean PM2.5 levels to be 10 μg/m3 or below by 2040, and for a population exposure reduction target of 35 % by 2040.
According to the latest data, over a third of the West Midlands Combined Authority area would be exceeding this future target for air pollution, impacting 1.2 million people living in our region. (Based on 2021 modelled baseline data by the University of Birmingham)
What are the causes of air pollution?
Air pollution is caused when particles and gases get mixed up in our air. This happens when we burn fuels and can come from cars, industrial processes and solid fuel burning appliances. Pollutants can also come from natural sources such as dust and sea salt.
In 2022, 31.3 billion vehicle miles of traffic were travelled across the 20.6 thousand miles of roads in West Midlands.
Indoor air pollution can also be caused by log burners, cooking and mould.
What are the health effects of air pollution?
Poor air quality has a significant impact on quality of life and public health.
WM-Air researchers at the University of Birmingham estimate that annually in the West Midlands, up to 2300 premature deaths in the region arise from long-term exposure to particulate matter.
Air pollution can also cause and exacerbate chronic illnesses, such as asthma, along with associated impacts on mental health and cognitive function throughout all stages of life:
- Low birth weight
- Development problems in children, including lung function
- Coronary heart disease
- Lung cancer
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
That’s why we have an increased focus on addressing emissions of particulate matter and these come from wide range of sources (such as domestic combustion) and not just road transport.
How to improve air pollution
To breathe clean air every day, we need to:
- Improve our public transport
- Reduce car use
- Stop buying products that pollute our homes
- Improve education and awareness
- Address emissions from industry and agriculture
- Create more space for nature.
In the West Midlands, our local authorities are already working hard to improve air quality through Air Quality Action Plans and air quality strategies as required by legislation.
However, addressing air quality issues as a region and working in a collaborative way has the potential for significant improvements to air quality that will benefit public health.
We are working alongside local authorities, and other important stakeholders, to understand how we can work together to deliver our regional vision:
To do this, we have developed:
- A Regional Air Quality Framework (see below) that contains 145 options to improve air quality that could be put in place locally and across the region to improve air quality.
- A West Midlands Air Quality Implementation Plan (see below) that looks at the priorities for action from 2024 – 2026. It should be noted that action does not mean full delivery in every case, however starting the process now is essential. This will be the first in a series of implementation plans that draw on the larger Framework to deliver regional change.
Alongside this, the WMCA environment team has worked with our Greener Together Citizens’ Panel to think about how we should roll the framework measures out across the region, and the things we should consider when developing new actions.
This has resulted in a set of guiding principles, which can be found in the framework itself, but also will soon be available in a special report.
Hear from Andrei and Parry on how being on the Citizens' Panel has shaped their thoughts on air quality.
In addition to these plans, the WMCA secured funding through a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) air quality grant that will enable:
- Roll out of a region-wide sensor network to monitor air pollution across the West Midlands, especially PM2.5.
- A website, currently under construction, which will provide information for people on air pollution across the West Midlands, as well as a portal to display the air quality data from the regional sensor network.
- Behaviour change and engagement campaigns to support people living in the West Midlands, as well as policymakers, with advice on how to improve air quality.
PM2.5, a form of particulate matter, is made up of little bits of material, with sources including exhaust fumes, the dust from brake pads on cars, smoke from fires, exhaust fumes, or smoking.
For more information on any of our air quality work, please contact us below.