Fredericknoronha [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia CommonsFredericknoronha [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Around a year ago a number of sensors that could record levels of various types of air pollution were installed in locations around Heaton in conjunction with Newcastle University’s Urban Observatory.

After a few initial problems and some calibration, the sensors have now been recording data for a number of months. One of the pollutants that has been in the news recently and is measured by the sensors is NO2.

NO2 is nitrogen dioxide, a colourless gas that is released in to the air when fuels like petrol, diesel and natural gas are burned. High levels of NO2 can cause health problems, particularly for people with asthma.

The concentration of NO2 is recorded by the sensors in micrograms per metre cubed of air (µg/m³). While there is no safe level of any sort of pollutant there is a legal target for NO2 of an annual mean of 40 µg/m³. Additionally, a 1 hour mean average of 200 µg/m³ should not be exceeded more than 18 times a year.

The Government guide to safe levels various types of air pollution can be found on the DEFRA website (pdf) along with a useful guide explaining what the targets mean in terms of UK and EU limits.

DEFRA have a more detailed guide about nitrogen dioxide that can be found on their website if you want more detail on issues facing the UK as a whole:

NO2 in Heaton

In order to see what current levels of NO2 are in the Heaton area, and establish a baseline against which future readings can be compared, we looked at the average readings for the month of November 2018. There were three sensors operational. The average readings of NO2 for the month are show in the following table.

Sensor Location Reading (µg/m³)
Heaton Road – Outside St Teresa’s school 28.07
Chillingham Road – Outside the primary school 29.78
Junction of Heaton Road, Newton Road
and the Coast Road (Corner House)

Unsurprisingly, there is quite a difference between the Coast Road and Chillingham and Heaton Roads. This is likely to be related to the difference in volume of traffic using the different roads.

Although the three monitors recorded different levels of NO2 all three showed rises and falls on the same days. This could be due to levels of traffic rising and falling across different days or other factors such as weather conditions. More data and research would be needed to pinpoint the reasons behind the peaks. However, whatever the causes are, they seem to affect the whole area simultaneously.

The following graphs show the daily average for November 2018 of NO2 recorded by each of the sensors.

NO2 readings from Heaton Road in µg/m³
NO2 readings from Chillingham Road in µg/m³
NO2 readings from the Coast Road in µg/m³

The future

At the time of writing the Council should have submitted a plan to the Government detailing what it intends to do the tackle areas of the city that currently have levels of NO2 that breach legal limits. One of these areas is the Coast Road running past Heaton.

If no acceptable solutions are produced the Government may impose a Clean Air Charging Zone (often referred to as a CAZ) on the city.

It is important that any solution created to tackle the high pollution levels in key areas don’t have a side effect of increasing the level of pollution elsewhere. This is particularly important in Heaton as any solution could move car traffic – a major source of NO2 – from the Coast Road on to other roads running through the area if not thought through.

Unintended consequences

It is not yet known what, if any, action the Council will be taking to reduce levels on NO2 but at SPACE for Heaton we feel it is important that any measures taken in one location don’t adversely affect another.

While Chillingham Road and Heaton Road don’t currently breach legal limits, measures aimed at reducing Coast Road values should not lead to increases elsewhere around Heaton, or elsewhere in the city.

What to do

If you share our concerns about air pollution in Heaton you can join us (no fees or commitment!) by visiting our signup page.

Additionally keep a look out for news from the Council about their plans and respond to any consultation it undertakes expressing your support or concerns for the proposals when they appear.

If this has sparked you interest you can find out more at our open meeting on 13th of February.

You can find links to the sensors installed in the area where you can view and download data in our previous post.