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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.

Watch the full programme here:

A fight that CAN be won

Too many people die avoidable deaths due to breathing in high levels of toxic air, almost 40,000 per year in the UK alone. Recent evidence has shown that even exposure to low levels of air pollution can cause harmful changes to the heart.

We have always believed that clean air is a basic human right and necessity, something that is firmly ingrained in our professional activities and ethos.

Highlighting the importance of community engagement with air quality improvement schemes, Birmingham residents used our sensitive Zephyr® small air quality sensor to incredible effect. A truly inspirational effort by everyone involved!

We were delighted to be part of the process and have since used Fighting For Air as a successful case study for local councils, schools, decision making bodies and anyone with an interest in breathing better.

This is a fight that can be won.

Next steps

Some encouraging developments have happened directly as a result of Fighting For Air. We were contacted by numerous concerned individuals, companies and councils who wanted to lower air pollution in their own neighbourhoods. Some exciting new partnerships were created, and it was a pleasure to facilitate all the positive discussion and action plans.

Project ACCRA is a great example of a consortium of innovative partners, including Leeds City Council, using our state-of-the-art Zephyr® air quality monitor to address local air pollution issues.

Schools and environmental groups are currently trialling our Zephyrs and MappAir® data solution to develop an overarching picture of air quality trends close to vulnerable populations.

Concerned individuals have also reached out to us with the idea of using a Zephyr® to monitor local levels of air pollution and provide instant readings.

With the Fighting For Air re-run promising to spark as much debate as the first showing on BBC2, you can contact us at any time by Twitter, LinkedIn, email @ and by telephone on 0116 296 7460.



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