New Air Quality Index
Posted on 22/06/2011
Recommendations for a new Air Quality Index have been published today by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), in which King’s plays a key role.
COMEAP is an independent committee of experts which provides advice to Government Departments and Agencies on the potential health effects of air pollutants.
The current UK Air Quality Index informs people about short-term levels of outdoor air pollution and their potential health effects. It has a 10 point scale divided into four bands – low, moderate, high and very high.
The Index is used to communicate information on short-term elevated levels to allow potentially susceptible people - such as those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions - to take appropriate action to reduce the effects on their health. The report makes recommendations for changes to the index based on new research, developments in the regulation of air pollution and public insight research.
COMEAP proposes to keep the 10 point scale, and four bands, but recommends that some of the bands be made more stringent to more accurately reflect the latest scientific understanding of the health effects of air pollution.
The Committee also recommends the removal of carbon monoxide from the index, as outdoor levels of this gas have fallen dramatically since the index was last revised in 1998. Furthermore, COMEAP proposes that Particulate Matter of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5) is added to the index as EU directives now require its regulation in the UK.
Additionally, the Committee is proposing the use of ‘trigger’ values to give people advanced warning of likely short-term increases in air pollution which could affect health. There should also be more information for people with heart and lung conditions on how to respond if they are affected by raised levels of air pollution.
COMEAP was asked by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to review the current UK Air Quality Index and the proposals are today presented to Defra for consideration.
Members of the COMEAP sub-group included Professor Frank Kelly, Professor Ross Anderson and Dr Gary Fuller, from the Environmental Research Group at King’s. Dr Fuller said: ‘The air pollution episode at Easter was an important reminder that smog is not a thing of the past. The new index will help people understand how daily changes in air pollution can affect their health and provides practical advice to help people with respiratory problems, such as asthma, cope during pollution episodes.’
Professor Jon Ayres, Chairman of COMEAP, added: ‘COMEAP is very keen to enhance the way we communicate facts about air pollution to the public and this fresh approach to air quality banding is both welcome and a real advance in helping the public deal with the impact of polluted air.’