Fighting For Air - A Fight that Can be Won?

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

We at EarthSense certainly think so and one concerned community in King’s Heath Birmingham used our Zephyr® air quality monitors to prove it!

A one-day social experiment on urban air quality

When the opportunity presented itself to work with acclaimed TV personality Dr Xand Van Tulleken and the BBC on air quality and public engagement, we were interested.

Dr. Xand van Tulleken holding a gas mask in BBC's Fighting for Air
Dr. Xand van Tulleken hosts BBC Programme, Fighting for Air, January 2018

Finding out that the topic in question was conducting a one-day behavioural change experiment in Birmingham, with the implementation of a low-emissions day along a busy high-street and neighbourhood primary school, we were sold. Behavioural change is notoriously difficult to successfully implement, trial and evaluate. We were ready for the challenge!

King’s Heath CAN

Technical Director Prof Roland Leigh travelled to Birmingham to meet the dynamic community action group King’s Heath CAN who were determined to reduce air pollution in their neighbourhood. Explaining how the Zephyr® small sensor worked, by detecting levels of polluting Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) in the air, Prof Leigh answered questions and addressed concerns.

Zephyr® units were promptly installed in key locations to take initial readings of NO2 as well as follow-up readings after interventions were implemented.

Zephyr® locations on Google maps and in picture on King's Heath High Street
Left: Zephyr deployments on A435, Right: Zephyr deployment with battery pack on lamp post on the High Street in King's Heath, Birmingham

Honk for Hedges!

The excitement and enthusiasm of the King’s Heath resident group was contagious. They worked tirelessly with Dr Xand, local council and bus company members to enforce a car-free zone around a local school and high street which usually experiences high levels of air pollution.

They also spent a cold December night setting up hedges to shield from air pollution, prompting creation of twitter hashtag #HonkForHedges.

This was one of the top trending social media topics after the first showing of the documentary on BBC2 early this year. The local school got on board with a walking bus, where children were encouraged to walk to school and parents advised to leave cars at home or use alternative public transport where possible.

An emotional day, with staggering results!

The reduction in air pollution in both study sites was significant, and greater than anyone expected from such a localised scheme. A massive 20% reduction in NO2 concentration at a local primary school and 10% reduction of NO2 on the high street.

Measurements were compared against the government’s DEFRA’s AURN air quality network standard values at background and roadside locations in Birmingham.