Air quality

Air pollutants and how we monitor air quality.

Air quality

Air quality describes how clean the air we breathe is. 

Polluted air is harmful to our health. It particularly affects the most vulnerable in society like: 

  • children 
  • older people 
  • those with heart and lung conditions 

Air quality management area  

Because of poor air quality, like much of London, Haringey is an Air Quality Management Area.  

As an Air Quality Management Area we have a legal duty to measure air quality and compare the results against the National Air Quality Objectives (legal limits for air pollution in the UK). 

Main air pollutants 

There are 2 main air pollutants – nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. 

Nitrogen dioxide  

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2 or NOx) is an invisible gas produced when fossil fuels are burned. Fossil fuels are burned in petrol and diesel vehicle engines and in gas boilers and gas stoves.  

NO2 can cause inflammation of the airways. This can lead to:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath 

Particulate matter 

Particulate matter is solid or liquid particles that hang in the air. Particulate matter is often written as PM10 or PM2.5. The number gives the size of the particles in micrometres. PM2.5 is referred to as ‘fine particulate matter’ because it’s very small and can reach deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream. 

Most particulate matter comes from us burning fossil fuels like coal, oil or natural gas in:

  • vehicle engines
  • gas boilers and stoves
  • open fireplaces and wood-burning stoves

Outdoor fires (such as garden bonfires) are also a source of particulate matter.  

Long-term exposure to particulate matter increases the risk of heart and lung disease. Short-term exposure can trigger or make health conditions, like asthma, worse.