Air Quality: a new monitor in London Road, but one Marlborough resident already knows all about the town's air quality problem
LATE NEWS: Public meeting on air quality in the Town Hall, Wednesday 10 February at 7.30pm.
Wiltshire Council have - after a long delay - installed a digital air quality monitor in London Road to give a continuous measure of the presence of harmful particulates (see below) including PM10 and PM2.5.
These particulates are mainly present in vehicle exhausts - especially from diesel engines. The monitor was installed on January 2 - and it is already showing some high peaks.
But the safety limits are measured against 24-hour and yearly averages, so Wiltshire Council is calling the recorded danger levels "Low". These averages include, of course, the traffic-free night hours.
On January 18 the PM10 particulate levels reached about 75 microns per cubic metre and on January 19 and 20 the peak reading was over 100 microns per cubic metre. The EU PM10 limit is a daily average of 50 microns per cubic metre.
The graphs can be seen here - they are put up at the end of each day.
There were alarming levels of PM10 and of PM2.5 present on Friday (Jan 22) afternoon and evening and through Saturday when there were road works close to the monitor and long queues of cars waited at temporary traffic lights.
This form of pollution is a danger to health. According to Public Health England the percentage of premature deaths in England attributable to PM2.5 rose to 5.3 per cent in 2013 from 5.1 per cent in 2012. Those figures follow significant improvements in air quality across England in 2010 and 2011.
In 2010 government figures showed that more than 29,000 had died in the UK from long-term exposure to air pollution.
Bridget Strong knows all too well about Marlborough's air quality problems. She lives in the much cleaner air near the Common, and finds it very difficult to come down into the High Street.
She has been diagnosed with two conditions which mean her lungs are particularly sensitive to pollution to the extent that she has a Blue Badge and has to avoid polluted air.
Bridget told Marlborough News Online: "Even before the advent of the air pollution monitors I knew that the air quality in Marlborough was not good for me as I notice both the taste and the smell (principally the taste) of the exhaust fumes, particularly diesel."
"I cannot walk up Herd Street or Kingsbury Street and have not done so for around 5-6 years as the added exertion of walking uphill together with the air quality means that I get breathless very quickly. I do not walk along the High Street except on the day of the Marlborough Jazz Festival when the High Street is pedestrian only."
"I do walk from my car into shops - e.g. Waitrose - and I attempt to park really close to wherever I am going. If I cannot park close to a shop's entrance I don't go. If I am going to more than one place in the High Street I use the car because the air quality is so bad."
"I cannot possibly eat al fresco at any of the High Street eateries and I am only able to go inside and eat if they are okay with me closing the door as the fumes really do enter the High Street establishments. I have to avoid the place where the buses wait for the same reasons as they often keep their engines on."
She knows too that the situation in the town has deteriorated: "Six years ago I walked more freely in the High Street and did sometimes walk up and down to town. Over those years my lung capacity has remained more or less the same."
How could Wiltshire Council improve the town's air quality? She suggests support for electric and non-diesel public transport and re-connecting the town to the electrified rail system: "Specifically I would ban HGVs from going through the town even up the side of the town to the Swindon Road. Deliveries to major shops and stores could happen through a depot outside town."
And she is worried that any cuts to bus routes would make things worse: "Perhaps what is required apart from anything else is a large car park well outside of Marlborough and Park and Ride electric buses. It would have to be far enough from the town centre to ensure pollution does not drift down into the town and it would have to be in a location that would encourage people to use it."
The Area Board, which has responsibility to draw up a plan and report back to Wiltshire Council, has received Transition Marlborough's report and it is being considered. At least one of the recommendations may be taken up.
Area Board Chairman, Councillor Jemima Milton told the Area Board meeting (January 26): "This is the start of a discussion on air quality."
Transition Marlborough are holding a public meeting on Wednesday, February 10 at 7.00pm in the Town Hall to discuss potential solutions. After the meeting a steering group will be set up.
What is 'particulate matter'?
'Particulate matter' is the term for microscopic air borne solid or liquid particles. Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke. Others are so small they can only be detected with an electron microscope.
Some particulates can cause adverse health effects because they can reach lower regions of the respiratory tract and enter the blood stream. Some of these will have a diameter of 10 micro-meters or less (0.0004 inches or one-seventh the width of a human hair) - these are often described as 'coarse particulates'.
Concerns for human health from exposure to PM10 particulates include: effects on breathing and respiratory systems, damage to lung tissue, cancer, and premature death. The elderly, children, and people with chronic lung disease, influenza, or asthma, are especially sensitive to the effects of particulate matter.
European emission standards set a yearly average for PM10s of 40 microns per cubic metre and a daily average of 50 microns per cubic metre. But the smaller and more dangerous PM2.5s have a yearly average limit of 25 microns per cubic metre.