Despite jibes about smog, air quality in Middlesbrough is “good” and pollution is getting ever lower, a meeting has heard.
Middlesbrough’s industrial history has, in the past, led to a reputation for poor air quality – so much so, inhabitants are sometime known as “smoggies”.
But it seems the moniker is out of date because Middlesbrough’s air quality is well ahead of EU recommended levels and pollutants are on the decrease.
On Wednesday, Middlesbrough Council’s Economic Development, Environment and Infrastructure Scrutiny Panel heard the good news from principal public protection officer, Paul MacGregor, and Judith Hedgley, head of public protection.
Explaining the changes in the town’s air quality over the decades, Ms Hedgley said: “With the build up of industry, the pollutants that we saw in the 1940s and 1950s, were sulphur dioxide and soot.
“And it was these pollutants that manifested itself in the London smog and the associated deaths in the city and throughout the country and it was these instances that implemented the Clean Air Act.
“As we move through the 1960s and the 1980s we get different types of pollutant linked to different types of industry.
“So whilst our grandparents talk about the London smog and soot, when we move to people who are middle-aged it’s things like taking the lead out of petrol, talk about acid rain, these were the types of pollutant we were looking at.
“Moving into the 1980s, we’re looking at some very different things and these are linked to our change in practices.
“So Nitrogen dioxide – very much linked with transport – and also more about particulates which are very, very, very small particles of matter which can be inhaled and also can enter our blood stream and have much wider effects.”
Ms Hedgley said particulates – PM10 and PM2.5 – are caused primarily by traffic.
She said: “Whilst coal burning is reduced, we have quite extensive laws in place to protect our air quality, pollution is now coming from things which are transport.
“We don’t have lead in our petrol but we do have diesel vehicles and we’re now looking at moving away from diesel to even more low emission type vehicles.”
Ms Hedgely explained how the council measures air quality by measuring levels of pollutants in the atmosphere at various measuring sites across the town.
Showing the panel a series of graphs depicting levels of Nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and particulates in the atmosphere, she said all measurements were below EU limits and were trending down since the first measurements began in 1995.
She added however that even small amounts of pollution can cause problems for people suffering with conditions asthma.
Cllr Theresa Higgins, Labour councillor for Longlands and Beechwood, said: “Looking at all the stats, I think it’s a good place to live Middlesbrough.
“And I think we should get it out there to say, because of previous bad publicity, because of being an industrial town, we always get bad publicity.
“This has made me look at the town in a different way because it is a good place to live and it is a healthier place to live.
“We should be getting that out not only to the people of Middlesbrough but people outside of the town to say ‘come to Middlesbrough, it’s a healthier place to live than quite a lot of places’.”
Cllr Vic Walkington, Labour councillor for Ayresome, said: “When I’ve looked at all your graphs they all seem to be trending down quite happily.
“You look at the town in general and the levels of No2 and things like that seem to be well below the limit.
“I know there’s problems with traffic congestion and things like that, but that doesn’t seem to be reflected in your graphs.
“What I’m interested in, in terms of a scrutiny panel, do we have to do anything?
“What is achievable?
“Are we striving to reduce the figures to zero?”
Ms Hedgley said: “What we’re looking at is getting the best air possible.”
She added that future changes such as a move towards electric cars would have the effect of reducing the figures further and that, as an environmental health officer, she would always recommend trying to reduce levels of pollutants.
Panel chair, Cllr Matt Storey, said: “I think it’s always good to try and be ambitious.
“The graphs are all going down so we’re heading in the right direction.
“We need to do what we can to get that even lower.
“There will be a point where it will plateau and there’s literally no more you can do.
“Until then we should try to get it down while there are other things we can be doing.”