Category: Health and safety
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that long-term exposure to poor air quality can have the same damaging effect as smoking 20 cigarettes a day, with air pollution shown to be more dangerous than passive smoking.
Many employees are exposed to poor air quality on a regular basis and employers are often unaware of the risks and what they can do to manage them. A new generation of air quality monitoring equipment is now available for measuring the levels of common air pollutants in the immediate areas where staff are working.
Employees working close to areas of high road traffic, particularly with poor air circulation, are especially vulnerable to the effects of pollution. As well as being trapped indoors or brought in through ventilation systems, pollutants can also build up in outdoor spaces, particularly in cities with high buildings, leading to exposure levels which may exceed limits set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Diesel fumes were classified as a Class 1 Carcinogen by the WHO in 2017, after it found that people exposed to diesel fumes at work were up to 40% more likely to develop cancer. As such, employers can now be sued if their employees develop cancer later in life as a result of exposure, as reported by The Sunday Times following the reclassification.
The EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure are 40µg/m3 annually and 200µg/m3 in an hour, no more than 18 times in a year. Many official measurement stations in cities worldwide report NO2 above the annual limit but less is known about local levels of this pollutant. Because NO2 is produced as a direct result of a source, such as traffic exhaust or diesel generators, levels of NO2 regularly exceed the hourly limit when measured in ‘hotspots’, such as busy road junctions, where it is not practical to install a large air quality measurement station, or on a private site.
Previously, air quality has been likened to passive smoking. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined in 2013 that air pollution is more dangerous than passive smoking, and was now the leading cause of cancer. At the time, the IARC’s Kurt Straif told the South China Morning Post “The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances. We consider this to be the most important environmental carcinogen, more so than passive smoking.”
Measuring ozone (O3) as a part of an air quality monitoring routine is also becoming increasingly important, especially in hotter climates and areas of increased VOC emissions. O3 at ground level is dangerous and is formed by reactions with nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from traffic and industrial emissions in the presence of sunlight. This means hotter, sunnier weather can dramatically increase O3 pollution in urban and industrial areas. The WHO currently states the daily limit of O3 levels to be 100μg/m3 over an 8-hour mean and advise that prolonged exposure to high levels of O3 can have severe effects on human health. These include asthma, inflammation of the airways and reduced lung functionality, just as the recent studies comparing air quality to smoking has found.
Senior co-author of the study Dr Joel Kaufman, from the University of Washington, said: “We were surprised to see how strong air pollution’s impact was on the progression of emphysema on lung scans, in the same league as the effects of cigarette smoking, which is by far the best-known cause of emphysema.” The professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and epidemiology added: “We really need to understand what’s causing chronic lung disease, and it appears that air pollution exposures that are common and hard to avoid might be a major contributor.”
Teams responsible for protecting staff from exposure to hazards can now understand exposure in relevant locations by installing compact air quality monitoring equipment designed to continuously measure pollution levels in ambient air.
AQMesh pods are small, wireless units which can be mounted on a lamp post, fencing, wall or a similar mounting point close to where staff are breathing potentially polluted air, both indoors and outdoors. Air quality readings are secure and confidential, accessed online by authorised personnel only.
AQMesh has been used on building sites, industrial sites and at roadside locations worldwide, as well as measuring the air intake into office buildings, in order to monitor the air quality of employees working in these areas on a daily basis and helping to protect them.
A new network of air pollution monitors has been installed to record emissions from cruise ships docking in Greenwich.
The £80,000 network has been funded by the Port of London Authority (PLA) and installed in partnership with Breathe London and the borough councils covering both Greenwich and Tower Hamlets.
The eight monitoring stations, all located close to the Greenwich Ship Tier landing stage, will capture data around the clock with the raw data available via the websites of both the PLA and Breathe London. A full analysis of the results will be published in early 2020.
The monitors have been supplied by Gloucestershire-based Air Monitors Limited.
Robin Mortimer, PLA chief executive said: ‘The data these monitors collect will give us a comprehensive understanding of the impact that the cruise ships have on air quality when they are in town.
‘It’s crucial to have this information so that we can address the concerns that we know are very strongly held by local residents.’
The monitors are part of the PLA’s Air Quality Strategy, published in May 2018, the first to be produced by a UK port. It includes 25-year targets to halve levels of Nitrogen Oxides and Particular Matter from river-related sources, whilst growing use of the river for carrying both freight and passengers.
Measures already implemented include a programme of retrofitting older vessels with the latest environmentally-friendly technology.
In January, the Department for Transport (DfT) published the first-ever maritime strategy, which details their vision of a zero-emission shipping industry by 2050.
In it, the government said they are considering introducing targets to drive down emissions of GHGs and other air pollutants from UK shipping as ‘the volume of global trade increases.’
They also say they hope to have a group of hydrogen or ammonia powered domestic vessels in operation and at least one major ‘smart port’ in the UK to have all ship-side activity zero emission (including non-road mobile machinery like cranes).
Few people know how clean the air is where they live, work, exercise or where their children go to school. Although air quality can be shown to vary significantly over short distances, air pollution is generally measured using a small number of large, expensive and high quality monitoring stations. The equipment used in these stations is very accurate and complies with measurement standards but they are expensive to buy and maintain, as well as difficult to position because of their size and infrastructure requirements.
With most cities having a single figure number of reference stations at best, many neighbourhoods do not have access to regular and localised air quality information. Historically, the best solution currently is to fill the gaps through modelling, which combines available air quality readings with other information such as emissions inventory.
Demand from communities for better local air quality information is coming at a time when development of smaller, cheaper air quality sensors can provide a solution to the challenge. ‘Small sensor’ air quality systems can provide highly localised pollution measurements, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and the key particulate matter measurement, PM2.5, but to provide meaningful measurements on which communities and authorities can make decisions, the information must show traceability to reference measurements.
Many initiatives around the world are aiming to show what can be done, with one of the most ambitious being the Breathe London project in London. 100 small sensor systems are being used, in combination with data from London’s reference network, modelling and readings taken by Google cars modified to carry high quality air monitoring equipment. This project aims to demonstrate how such a ‘hyper-local’ network can be managed, creating a template which can be rolled out to other cities worldwide.
Similarly, 50 AQMesh small sensor air quality monitoring units have been installed to monitor air quality in each of the 50 zip codes in Minneapolis – Saint Paul, USA. “This project is about understanding small-scale differences in air pollution in urban areas in order to minimise exposure to harmful air pollutants, particularly for vulnerable communities. The Assessing Urban Air Quality project will use new air monitoring sensors to broaden our knowledge about air quality in Minneapolis and St. Paul”, commented Monika Vadali, Ph.D, who is leading the project.
AQMesh has also been used to monitor air quality around industrial sites and next to nearby communities which may be affected. As the monitoring units can be positioned with a high degree of flexibility, such as mounting on a lamp post, it is possible to capture data at exactly the point required. With measurements usually every 15 minutes, combined with local wind speed and direction information, it is possible to build up a highly localised picture of likely pollution exposure and identification of pollution sources.
Whilst regulatory authorities are currently defining testing methodologies to help users choose small sensor air quality systems, the best small sensor systems provide a useful and practical tool to supplement existing monitoring networks and are in active use around the world, providing new information about local air quality for a range of applications.
AQMesh has been measuring ozone (O3) using small sensors since 2011 and the readings from the latest generation electrochemical sensor, using AQMesh v4.2.3 processing, as compared to co-located certified reference readings, consistently show an R2 of over 0.9 with an accuracy ±10ppb (20µg/m3).
AQMesh pods have been measuring ozone levels around the world and co-location comparison studies show very good performance against reference equipment from the latest sensor and processing version. Ozone levels have been particularly high across Western Europe over this summer but are a regular concern in many parts of the world, including the USA. However, there are huge gaps between O3 monitoring points, to different degrees across the world, depending on monitoring equipment budgets. A lower cost small-sensor monitoring solution can provide valuable data within the areas currently lacking in this air quality information. Data validity is typically demonstrated by comparison with a local reference station, although AQMesh is also widely used where no reference data is available.
O3 at ground level is formed by reactions with nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from traffic and industrial emissions in the presence of sunlight. As such, hotter, sunnier weather can dramatically increase O3 pollution.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) currently states the daily limit of O3 levels to be 100μg/m3 over an 8-hour mean and advise that prolonged exposure to high levels of O3 can have severe effects on human health, including causing asthma, inflammation of the airways, reduced lung functionality and lung disease. Measuring O3 as a part of an air quality monitoring routine is therefore becoming increasingly important, especially in hotter climates and areas of increased VOC emissions.
O3 can be complicated to measure due to its high sensitivity to environmental conditions and cross-gas effects. Most small sensors for measuring O3 are either electrochemical or metal oxide, but electrochemical sensors (such as those used in AQMesh) have the advantage of low power requirements and can therefore be installed more flexibly. AQMesh pods are compact, wireless units and are available with a variety of power options, including solar panels, which allow them to be installed exactly where monitoring needs to take place.
During summer 2018 AQMesh has been measuring ozone at hundreds of locations across five continents and co-location comparisons show consistently high levels of accuracy. To quote two of many such studies, in an industrial region of the USA, AQMesh O3 measurements compared to FEM gave an R2 of 0.97, and in a similar comparison study in Western Europe the R2 value for O3 was 0.95. AQMesh pods measuring gases can run continuously for over two years using a battery but other power options are available, including solar. Particulate matter (TPC, PM1, PM2.5, PM10) can also monitored with an AQMesh pod, alongside gases including NO, NO2, O3, CO, SO2, CO2 and H2S, as well as pod temperature, RH% and pressure.
The accuracy of AQMesh readings has been proven through an extensive series of global co-location comparison trials and is the proven, commercially available low-cost air quality monitoring system for both pollutant gases and particulate matter, as well as simultaneously monitoring a range of environmental conditions.
On Sunday 13th May 2018, Cardiff Council organised a car-free day in the city’s central area. As a result of this event air quality monitoring data showed an average 69% drop in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – one of the pollutants of greatest public health concern. Seeking a better understanding of the relationship between air quality and traffic, Cardiff Council hired three AQMesh air quality monitoring pods from Air Monitors Ltd. The instruments were located on streets impacted by the day’s event, and within two of the Councils Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs); City Centre & Stephenson Court, Newport Road. The instruments continuously recorded air quality at these locations for 20 days before, during and after the event.
“In comparing the results obtained during the Car Free Day Event with results from the following Sunday (20th May) , the monitor on Duke Street showed an 87% reduction in nitrogen dioxide, the monitor in Westgate Street showed an 84% reduction and the third monitor, which was located less centrally from the main road closures, in Stephenson Court, showed a 36% reduction,” commented a Specialist Services Officer, working for Shared Regulatory Services (SRS) on behalf of Cardiff Council . “Comparing the car-free datasets with those of the following Sunday (20th May); the daily average nitrogen dioxide levels recorded by two of the monitors situated within the City Centre AQMA exceeded the EU yearly average limit (40 µg/m3), but on the car-free day, these two monitors measured daily average figures of just 5 and 8µg/m3 of nitrogen dioxide, providing clear evidence that air pollution in Cardiff city centre is generated by traffic.”
Under the European Ambient Air Quality Directive, Welsh Ministers have a duty to ensure that compliance with air quality objectives defined within the directive is achieved. As outlined in Defra’s UK Action Plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, July 2017, modelling has indicated that certain road networks in Cardiff fail to meet EU air quality requirements. Cardiff Council has been directed by Welsh Government to undertake a feasibility study, in order to demonstrate how compliance with the directive and its specified limits will be achieved in the shortest time possible. In order to implement air quality interventions, the Council therefore needs to evaluate the sources of pollution so that appropriate interventions can be assessed to ensure that effective mitigation measures can be implemented. At the same time, it will be necessary to engage with citizens to ensure that they appreciate the importance of tackling air pollution.
Nitrogen dioxide and particulates are the main cause of failures to meet EU air quality limits in cities around the world, and it is well known that traffic, and diesel vehicles in particular, are a major source of these pollutants. The AQMesh pods measure a range of gases including nitrogen dioxide, so by monitoring the effect of removing traffic, the Council will be in a better position to implement improvement measures.
Two automatic air quality monitoring stations are located in Cardiff, and the Council supplements the data from these monitors with a network of non-automatic passive diffusion tubes. However, the Specialist Services Officer from SRS says: “The fixed stations can’t provide street-level monitoring at the most sensitive locations, and the use of diffusion tubes does not provide a detailed understanding of daily trends as they only provide a monthly average figure. However, SRS are aware of the capabilities of the AQMesh pods and are familiar with the accuracy and flexibility that they are able to deliver, which is why they were chosen for the car-free day project.”
In order to assure the quality of the monitoring data, the AQMesh pods that were employed during the project were checked against a reference station and were found to have performed very well. “The pods are small, lightweight and battery-powered which makes them quick and easy to deploy,” the Specialist Services Officer adds. “This is crucial to our work because it gives us the ability to site them on lamp posts so that they measure the air that people are breathing. In addition, they are web-enabled which means that we can monitor air quality in almost real-time; providing a unique insight into the specific events that impact air quality.”
It has been estimated that around 40,000 people in the UK die prematurely as a result of air pollution, mainly in the larger towns and cities. In Wales, the urban areas exceeding EU limits include Cardiff, Swansea, Port Talbot, Newport, Chepstow and Wrexham.
Following completion of the monitoring work in Cardiff, SRS has had requests for the data from a number of organisations, and are keen for the work to be publicised as widely as possible. Highlighting the importance of citizen engagement, the SRS Specialist Services Officer says: “A wide variety of potential measures are available to combat air pollution in Cardiff, but many involve inconvenience for members of the public and cost to the public purse, so we need those affected to be on-board with the measures being taken. We are also hoping that the public will be keen to help, by participating in car-share schemes for example.”
Extensive research has shown that indoor air quality is often worse than outdoors. Closed system buildings trap harmful particles inside, and external air intakes can bring in more polluted air from outside.
Whilst many heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC) use particle filtering, managed through air exchanges, they can often worsen levels of polluting gases, such as NO2 – now classified by the World Health Organisation as a Class 1 carcinogen. Natural ventilation systems have no particulate filtration at all, and buildings are also frequently completely shut up all night with no ventilation running, trapping the pollution that has built up over the day.
Unlike outdoor air quality (which the government is responsible for), indoor air quality is the responsibility of the building owner or manager, and with research proving that poor air quality has a significant impact on human health, air pollution should be a key factor of employee health & safety.
Future Decisions has teamed up with AQMesh and UK distributor, Air Monitors Ltd, to supply pollution mitigation to improve indoor air quality. Future Decisions has developed patented smart management strategies that aim to reduce internal air pollution by 30% – this is usually enough to bring the air quality within UK & EU regulatory levels, and often within the World Health Organisation levels.
AQMesh measures NO, NO2, O3, NOx, CO, CO2, SO2, PM1, PM2.5, PM10, temperature, pressure and relative humidity in a small pod which can be mounted both indoors and outdoors on a wall or post. Batteries, solar power and DC power options give flexibility of mounting anywhere. AQMesh was designed to offer an easy-to-use air quality monitoring system that can deliver localised real-time readings, improving the accuracy and scope of gathering air quality data in order to support initiatives to reduce air pollution and its risk to human health.
Two AQMesh pods were used to measure NO, NO2, O3 and CO during May and June 2017 at Upplands Motor Stockholm AB car dealership in Sweden, located on the highway between Stockholm city centre and Arlanda airport. The objective was to measure the air quality outside and inside the combined showroom and workshop, demonstrating the importance of measuring common traffic-related pollutants indoors as well as outdoors. The project was also to assess the suitability of AQMesh for this application, including ease of installation and relocation.
The car dealer is situated immediately next to a major highway and the premises are used for car servicing and repairs as well as sales. The air in the building is managed using a standard heating and ventilation management system which ensures adequate air exchange when the building is in operation.
One of the pods was moved indoors between 9th May and 9th June – this can be clearly seen in the temperature plot comparison for both pods during May and June (the pod moved indoors is shown by the blue line on the plot below). The indoor unit showed significantly elevated levels of NO and CO indoors during that time, compared to the unit which remained outside. Although the NO levels indoors largely tracked the outdoor levels, they were consistently around 40-50ppb higher. This may be because the ventilation system is not adequately exchanging air indoors, as the ventilation system in the building is activated at 7am and stops at 6pm when the dealer closes for the day.
The AQMesh pods were then mounted together outdoors again at the end of the indoor trial, clearly showing that the units continued to agree with each other when measuring in the same space, with a pod-to-pod R2 of over 0.8.
Whilst many heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC) focus on CO2 measurement – managed through air exchanges – and particle filtration, they can actually make levels of common pollution gases, such as NO2, worse. Air intakes may be situated where outdoor air quality is poor, such as in a car park or near a road, air intake is often during busy traffic periods, and HVAC systems may be switched off just as outdoor air is clearing, trapping pollution indoors overnight.
With diesel exhaust fumes – which include NO2 – now classified as a class 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation, forward-thinking companies, such as Upplands Motor, are becoming the first to understand these issues and are focusing on management of indoor air to ensure that the air quality for their workers is at least better than outdoors. AQMesh can also quantify exposure of employees to NO2 and other pollutants when working outdoors, such as on civil engineering sites, directing traffic, or driving a bus.
AQMesh was designed to offer an easy-to-use air quality monitoring system that can deliver localised real-time readings, improving the accuracy and scope of gathering air quality data in order to support initiatives to reduce air pollution and its risk to human health. It continues to be proven as a reliable and accurate instrument for monitoring air quality, whether indoors or outdoors.
Cleves School in Weybridge, Surrey (UK) has used AQMesh to measure pollution at the primary school’s entrance. The project, led by Dr. Edward Salter over the school’s summer term, aimed to understand exposure of the children (aged 7-11) to dangerous pollutant gases, with particular interest in the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3).
Initial findings showed that levels of O3 exceeded 100µg/m3 on several occasions during the high temperatures in June, and a daily pattern of gas peaks coinciding with school pick-up and drop-off was noticeable for nitric oxide (NO). NO2 levels increased later in the day both as a result of oxidation of school-related NO and from general traffic locally, with elevated levels of NO2 up to the end of the evening commute, probably from traffic on local and major roads nearby. The monitoring also showed 15-30 minute spikes from diesel buses or cars parked very early in the morning or late at night with their engines running constantly, as well as from local events at the weekend, when the air quality is otherwise generally seen to improve considerably.
The project set out to determine whether pollution peaked at school drop-off and pick-up times in order to encourage cleaner methods of getting to and from school, after a transport assessment for the expansion of the school highlighted that traffic peaked around 8.30am and 3.15pm for approximately 30 minutes. The school is reviewing findings and will consider a number of mitigation measures, including timing exercise sessions for periods of lower pollution.
AQMesh monitors were installed to monitor NO, NO2, NOx and O3 at each school gate during these peak traffic periods. “There is clearly an effect between pollution levels and travelling to school by car. If I were to do this again I would ask to monitor to additional gases, VOCs and particulates”, said Dr. Edward Salter. AQMesh can currently measure PM1, PM2.5, PM10, CO and SO2, as well as the three gases in this study, and options for H2S and CO2 are due to be released by the end of 2017.
“The AQMesh pods were simple enough for the school to handle, which is not true of all such equipment”, added Dr. Salter.
AQMesh was designed to offer a robust and easy-to-use air quality monitoring system that can deliver localised real-time readings, improving the accuracy and scope of gathering air quality data in order to support initiatives to reduce air pollution and its risk to human health.
AQMesh has been used in various education-related projects globally. At the simplest level AQMesh offers an accessible way for schoolchildren to engage with local air quality issues. Used in conjunction with wind speed and direction information, local real-time data from AQMesh can be used to distinguish between local sources of pollution, which can be managed, and more distant sources of pollution which require a different approach. AQMesh data can also be used to improve the accuracy of air quality models at the local level.
On 9th April The Sunday Times reported that employers have been told they are legally obliged to protect their staff from diesel fumes — and could be sued if workers develop cancer later in life. Read the full article here.
Employers who want to assess risk to employees can use AQMesh to take round-the-clock readings of a range of measurements including key pollutants NO2 and PM2.5. The small, battery-powered devices transmit data using the mobile phone network and data can be accessed using a secure online login.
The Sunday Times article is based on a reclassification of diesel fumes as a “grade 1 carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, after it found that people exposed to diesel fumes at work were up to 40% more likely to develop cancer.
The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have issued the warnings and as many as 500,000 UK jobs may be affected. Clearly it is not just UK workers who are affected by diesel fumes in the workplace. Employees with jobs that could involve high exposure to diesel fumes are any who spend much of their time on or close to busy roads or railways, or near running diesel engines or generators.
Studies with AQMesh have shown high exposure to NO2 and particulate matter inside vehicles such as taxis and also inside office buildings. Although buildings often have active air management to reduce CO2 levels, air intakes can be positioned such that they draw in air from a highly polluted area. Particles may be filtered out but without knowing how levels of the invisible, odourless pollutant NO2 are potentially building up, it is very difficult to manage indoor air quality. Read more…
Employers may be required to take action, including practical advice for employees to minimise exposure. However, exposure can vary dramatically depending on location – inside or outside a vehicle or building – time of day, day of the week, etc. For employers to understand the risk presented to employees and to take appropriate action, it is straightforward to assess air quality very close to the point at which employees are inhaling air.
The best quality data about air pollution comes from reference stations, using validated equipment. However, such stations are large, immobile and require power and communications infrastructure. AQMesh can be located in a fixed position to monitor a workplace on an ongoing basis, such as inside a facility, next to a professional driver or on a fence next to a construction team. AQMesh can be calibrated against reference instruments to establish reading validity. Further advice about management of AQMesh data is available from www.airmonitors.co.uk.