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Dudley Council the historic capital of the Black Country
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These webpages provide a wealth of information suitable for all backgrounds and ages on air quality. It is designed for children and local schools interested in air quality and environmental issues.

What is air quality?

Air Quality tells us how good the air is to breathe. If the air quality is bad then it has more harmful things in it. Good air quality tells us that it has less harmful things and is better for us to breathe.

Air

Air is all around us; it is what is known as a gas. Air contains oxygen which is essential for our bodies to live.

Air Pollution

Air pollution describes harmful things in the air we breathe. When we get poor air quality it is because levels of some gases have reached harmful levels. These gases are harmful to humans and animals and plants. The gases which affect our air quality are:

  • Nitrogen

  • Sulphur Dioxide

  • Benzene

  • Particulate matter

  • Lead

  • Carbon Monoxide

  • 1,3 Butadience

Air is also polluted by Carbon Dioxide, Methane, CFC's and Ozone. Some of these are causing the earth to warm up - known as Global Warming.

Air quality facts

Interesting Air Quality Facts:

  • Ozone gas (O3) is formed when nitrogen oxides react with sunlight.
  • Stratospheric Ozone, which is 10 to 15 miles above the earth's surface, is essential to life because it filters harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun, reducing the amount reaching the earth's surface.
  • In cities where it is very sunny and very polluted, photochemical smog can get so bad; children are sometimes kept away from school!
  • Plants and trees use up carbon dioxide and therefore help to 'clean' the air.
  • Lichens can provide a simple and effective way of establishing the degree of pollution in a given area.
  • VOC stand for Volatile Organic Compounds and are air pollutants that evaporate easily.
  • As long ago as 1273, coal was first banned in London, because it could be bad for your health.
  • The word 'Bonfire' comes from the medieval term 'bone fire' - when animal bones were burnt in the street.
  • In one year, a car an produce 4 times its own weight in carbon monoxide.
  • Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution - they breathe faster than adults and inhale more air per pound of body weight.
  • People travelling by car can be exposed to higher levels of pollution than pedestrians or cyclists.
  • Cycling can reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce stress and increase life expectancy.
  • During term time, 20% of traffic in rush hour is related to children being driven to school.
  • There are more than 26 million vehicles licensed to use UK roads.
  • It would take 20 of today's new cars to generate the same amount of air pollution as one mid-1960s model car.
  • Service delivery vehicles spend 20-60% of their time idling, which costs fleet owners a lot of money and gets them nowhere.
  • Added weight makes your car's engine run less efficiently, increasing air pollution.
  • The sun is estimated to be 4.6 billion years old and 150 million km (on average) away from Earth.
  • Starting a car cold increases trip emissions compared to starting the car warm.
  • For a 5-mile trip, starting the car cold generates about 30 percent more nitrogen oxide and 60 percent more carbon monoxide than starting the car when it is warm.
  • Scientists predict that around the world, average temperatures could increase by anywhere from 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years. To understand what this means think about the fact that today's average global temperatures are only about 5 degrees warmer than they were during the last Ice Age about 18,000 to 20,000 years ago.
  • Greenhouse gases are an important part of the Earth's atmosphere. They help warm the Earth, without them the Earth's average temperature would be -18 degrees Celsius! The problem is that the burning of fossil fuels creates more greenhouse gases than the planet needs.

What is the environment?

The environment is something you are very familiar with. It's everything around us! It actually affects our ability to live on the earth - from the air we breathe, the water that covers most of the earth's surface, the plants and animals around us to much much more. 

In the past people have not always given much thought to what is around us and what effect it may have on us if it were removed or polluted. However, in recent years, scientists have been carefully examining the ways that people affect the environment and people are beginning to realise that we need to take extra care of our 'environment'.

They have found that we are causing air pollution, deforestation, acid rain, and other problems that are dangerous both to the earth and to ourselves. These days, when you hear people talk about "the environment", they are often referring to the overall condition of our planet, or how healthy it is. 

We must all do our bit to look after the planet to avoid any further damage !

What is air pressure?

Air pressure is the weight of the atmosphere pressing down on the earth.

You may have seen the weatherman talking about air pressure on TV during a weather forecast. It is an important thing to know, as it can actually determine the type of weather we get where we live.

Air Pressure is measured by a barometer. You can see a barometer on the left. Barometers may also use mercury in a glass column, like a thermometer, to measure the change in air pressure. When the weather is calm the mercury in the barometer stays fairly low against the measure. 

If a high pressure system is on its way, often you can expect cooler temperatures and clear skies. If a low pressure system is coming, then look for warmer weather, storms and rain. 

Air pressure also changes with altitude. When you move to a higher place, say a tall mountain in Scotland, air pressure actually decreases because there are fewer air molecules as you move higher up.

Doing your bit to help reduce air pollution and global warming

There are many things we can do to help reduce air pollution and global warming. Use buses and trains instead of cars, as they can carry a lot more people in one journey. This cuts down the amount of pollution produced.

Why not get fit?

Walking or cycling whenever you can will be even better, as it does not create any pollution. It will also be good for your body, as regular exercise will keep you fit and healthy.

If your parents must use the car, ask them to avoid using it for very short journeys if possible, as this creates unnecessary pollution. Try to encourage them to share their journeys with other people, for example when they go to work or go shopping. Also encourage them to drive more slowly as this produces less pollution and less carbon

Turn Off The Lights!

Turning off lights when they are not needed and not wasting electricity will reduce the demand for energy. Less electricity will need to be produced and so less coal, oil and gas will have to be burnt in power stations, which means less air pollution and less carbon dioxide!

Recycle more

Most of the rubbish we throw away can be recycled, such as glass bottles and jars, steel and aluminium cans, plastic bottles and waste paper. Recycling used materials uses less energy than making new ones.

Composting fruit and vegetable waste reduces the amount of rubbish buried at rubbish dumps.

 

Pollutants that you could come across

Benzene is a colourless, flammable, toxic liquid with a "pleasant" odour. In the atmosphere it can come from vehicles or evaporation in petrol. Levels are therefore highest close to busy roads or in the vicinity of petrol filling stations. Benzene can also be released to the air from tobacco smoke, glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents.

Butadiene is similar to Benzene. It is in the family of "volatile Organic" Compounds. It is colourless, odourless and easily changes to a gas at room temperature. They are called organic because they contain the element carbon in their molecular structures. Sources of butane include the manufacturing of rubbers, petrol driven vehicles and cigarette smoke. Butadiene and other Volatile Organic Compounds are a concern because long term exposure to high levels of benzene is known to cause cancer, as well as other health problems. Other effects can include skin and eye irritation and breathing problems.

Carbon Monoxide is a gas that comes from burning of fossil fuels. It cannot be smelt and is colourless. Carbon Monoxide is released when engines burn fossil fuels. Emissions are higher when engines are not tuned properly, and when fuel is not completely burned. Cars emit a lot of the carbon monoxide found outdoors.

Lead is a grey metal that is very toxic and is found in a number of forms and locations. Outside lead comes from cars in areas where unleaded petrol is not used. Lead can also come from power plants and other industrial sources. In the UK we have stopped using unleaded petrol. Inside, lead paint is an important source of lead, especially in houses where paint is peeling. Lead in old pipes can also be a source of lead in drinking water. High amounts of lead can be dangerous for small children and can lead to lower IQs and kidney problems. For adults, exposure to lead can increase the chance of having heart attacks or strokes.

Nitrogen Dioxide is a reddish-brown gas that comes from the burning of fossil fuels. It has a strong smell at high levels. Nitrogen dioxide mostly comes from power plants and cars. It is formed when nitrogen in the fuel is burned and also when nitrogen in the air reacts with oxygen at very high temperatures. Nitrogen Dioxide can react in the atmosphere to form ozone, acid rain, and particles. High levels of exposure to Nitrogen Dioxide can give people coughs and can make them feel short of breath. People who are exposed to nitrogen dioxide for a longer time have a higher chance of getting respiratory infections. Acid rain can hurt plants and animals and can make lakes dangerous to swim or fish in.

Ozone is a gas that can be found in two places. Near to the ground (the troposphere), it is a major part of smog. higher in the air (the stratosphere), it helps block radiation from the sun. Ozone is not created directly, but is formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile compounds mix in the sunlight. That is why ozone is mostly found in the summer. nitrogen Dioxides come from cars and burning coal, or other fossil fuels. there are many types of volatile organic compounds, and they come from sources ranging from factories to trees. Ozone near the ground can cause a number of health problems. It can lead to more frequent asthma attacks in people who have asthma, and can cause sore throats, coughs, and breathing difficulty. It may even lead to premature death. Ozone can also hurt plants and crops.

Particulate is solid matter that is suspended in the air. To remain in the air, particles are usually less than 0.1mm wide and can be as small as 0.00005mm (very small). Particle matter can be divided into two types - course particles and fine particles. course particles are bigger than 0.002mm and are formed from sources like road dust, sea spray, and construction. Fine particles are smaller than 0.002mm and are formed when fuel is burned in automobiles and power plants. particle matter that is small enough can enter the lungs and cause health problems. Some of these problems include more frequent asthma attacks, respiratory problems, and premature death. Particle matter can also make clothes and other materials dirty.

Smoke is produced when fuels are burnt to generate heat and electricity.

Sulphur Dioxide comes mostly from the burning of coal or oil in power plants. It also comes from factories that make chemicals, paper, or fuel. Exposure to sulphur dioxide can affect people who have asthma or emphysema by making it more difficult for them to breathe. It can irritate people' eyes, noses and throats. It can harm trees, crops, and damage buildings

School rush hour

Have You Noticed?

Most people will have noticed the difference in the amount of traffic on the roads at rush hour during term-time as compared to the school holidays. Generally, there seems to be less traffic on the roads at rush-hour during the school holidays and journey times are noticeably less due to the absence of school run traffic.

Did you know?

That 29% of children travel to school by car when the average distance to primary school is only 1.4 miles and only 2.9 miles for secondary schools? It would only take approximately 1/2 hour to walk 1.4 miles. Next time you drive to school at rush-hour, check how long it takes - you may be surprised to find that, due to traffic, your journey may not be as quick as you thought.

What You Can Do!

  • Get bespoke journey planning with printable maps and timetables for walking, bus, road and rail routes;

  • Access to mapping information on transport facilities such as: pedestrian crossing points, local bus stops,walking bus routes, cycle routes, car parks and park and stride locations;

  • Find details on school activities, clubs and events occurring within your local area;

  • Find out how to travel in a more sustainable, healthy and environmentally friendly way.

Who can help?

Dudley has gained funding to provide a School Travel Plan Advisor, Linda Tromans, to assist schools to write their own Travel Plans. Road Safety Officers will work with schools to run Safer Routes to School projects. Ideas generated by pupils can be used to bid for funds to help create or promote Safer Routes to School.

Air Quality Monitoring In Schools

A number of schools have now assisted the council in its monitoring programme, with diffusion tubes located on their premises. Each month we asked the participating schools to assist in exchanging tubes and the sample from the previous month was then sent away for testing. The data collected was relayed back to the school for educational purposes and also formed part of our reporting on air quality in the borough. Teaching resources have been developed to help explain air quality issues to children and to view and manipulate their monitoring results using Excel tables.

Your school can take part too! If you are interested in joining our monitoring programme or downloading the teaching resources, please follow the link below to find out more:

What can we do to improve air quality?

Thinking about air pollution on a worldwide scale can be daunting because as individuals we can often feel insignificant. Yet, if we all reduce the amount of fuel we use and the number of chemicals used at home, we will improve the quality of the air that we breathe and help the global problem.

The School Run

Why not start by leaving the car at home one day a week? Walking or cycling to school is not only good for your health but it will save on fuel costs and help reduce local air pollution. Using public transport whenever you can will also reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

You may have friends, family or neighbours who also drive their children to the same school or one nearby. Why not take turns to drive or walk the children to school? If you don't know anyone who lives near you, why not check whether your school has a travel plan. Further guidance can be found within the School Travel Plan & Safer Routes to School.

If you arrive at school a little early - don't sit in your car with the engine idling and/or your air conditioning running continuously - switch your engine off; you'll save fuel, money and improve local air quality!

Energy Efficiency

Improving the energy efficiency of your school will help reduce your energy bills, as well reducing the air pollution associated with power generation and can improve your schools environmental image; your school may even be accredited for your achievements through Government Accreditation Schemes.

For further information, please visit the Energy Savings Trust (EST) website, which is a non-profit organisation that promotes energy savings, funded by the Government and private sector.

Around The Home

  • Use water-based or low solvent paints, glues, varnishes and wood preservatives, look for brands with a low VOC content
  • Make sure your home is well ventilated especially during DIY or cleaning
  • Have your central heating system checked regularly to avoid risking exposure to toxic carbon monoxide
  • Keep wood stoves and fireplaces well maintained
  • Before organising days out, check the air pollution and sun UV index forecast
  • Purchase "Green Power" for the electricity in your home. (Contact your power supplier)
  • Be energy efficient- make sure your house is well insulated and use energy efficient appliances
  • Use trigger sprays rather than aerosols
  • Don't light bonfires or barbecues when air pollution levels are high
  • Never burn household waste, especially plastics, rubber and treated timber