Latest figures from Defra show that most of Bournemouth and Poole’s commuter roads breached the acceptable standard for NOx gases in 2014.
Exposure to NOx gases is thought by the government to be ‘increasing mortality by the equivalent of 23,500 deaths per year’ and European law requires the UK to keep those gases to a minimum.
The ‘safe level’ for emissions is an annual mean of 40 (µg m-3), with hourly levels not allowed to exceed 200 µg m-3 more than 18 times in any one year.
While Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch hit the target for background levels of NOx gases, all the connurbation’s main routes – 11.2km of road in total – are in the top two brackets for annual mean levels, with many at more than 60 (µg m-3).
But Defra’s air quality management plans say the Bournemouth Urban Area – which includes – Poole, Christchurch, Highcliffe and New Milton – will be under safe levels by 2020.
It says a number of recent, ongoing and planned local authority policies are expected to reduce air pollution in the area below the annual limit by 2020.
Among them are plans by New Forest District Council to reduce emissions from its vehicle fleet, launch a public awareness campaign and improve walkways and cycle lanes around Ringwood and New Milton.
Borough of Poole is working with businesses to encourage their staff to use alternative means to get to work.
And in Bournemouth the report says ‘the local authority has seen the use of rail, bus, walking and cycling rise appreciably, including significant increases in bus patronage and those cycling to work, due to the contribution of their approach to local transport policy.’
Bournemouth already has two Air Quality Management Areas imposed by the government, which the action plans says are likely to be removed this year.
Future plans expected to reduce air pollution further after 2020 include the creation of a new lane on the A31 to reduce congestion at Ringwood.
A report published this month by the Royal College of Physicians claims the annual ‘mortality burden’ nationwide from exposure to outdoor air pollution is equivalent to around 40,000 deaths, resulting in costs of more than £20 billion.
And Public Health England figures say air pollution was responsible for 4.7% of deaths in Bournemouth and Poole in 2014, up from 4.4% in 2013. In Christchurch pollution was behind 4.4 per cent of deaths in 2014, up from 4.1% in 2013.
The South West average is 4.5% of deaths, with the England average at 5.3%.
The area is not unique in the UK, with 38 of the country’s 43 air quality zones currently exceeding EU safety limits for nitrogen dioxide.