Air Quality

Reducing air pollution

Air pollution ranks fourth among major risk factors for global disease and mortality. In the UK, it contributes to between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths annually, with an estimated economic cost of more than £20 billion every year. Experts from the Environmental Research Group, and across the School of Public Health, provide air quality measurement devices, solutions, and analysis to local authorities, industry, organisations and communities.

Their activities include the evolution of human activity and resultant emissions, complex atmospheric chemistry and transport processes, the effects of exposure to different air pollutants on individual health, new measurement and sensing capabilities and appropriate technologies and policies to mitigate the impacts of air pollution globally.

Imperial’s experts provide both specific and holistic insights into how policies should be designed and delivered. Professor Frank Kelly, Dr Audrey de Nazelle and Dr Marc Stettler, for example, were invited to present their research and discuss how The Environment Bill, and wider Government policy, can best reduce air pollution at a roundtable chaired by Lord Teverson, Chair of the Lords EU Environment Sub-Committee.


Environmental Research Group

The group work with TFL and the Mayor of London to inform on air quality and guidance on effectiveness of air pollution policies. All major air pollution strategies in London use emissions and air pollution models developed by the group and they helped shape London’s congestion charge and Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). 

The Breathe London Network, managed by the group, and funded by the Mayor and Bloomberg Philanthropies and the boroughs, is Key  to the Mayor’s work to raise awareness of air pollution, making it easier for all Londoners to access reliable, localised, real-time air quality data.

Dr Gary Fuller, “The new Breathe London network of sensors across the city’s boroughs will help communities to understand the invisible air pollution that surrounds them. The air pollution that we breathe each day is estimated to be responsible for the early deaths of around 4,000 Londoners in 2019. Having a healthy city to live in is essential to London’s future. Action needs to be underpinned by sound science; to design polices, track outcomes and provide clear information to the public.

Dr Benjamin Barratt speaks about his work leading the Breathe London project, “more work needs to be done to empower people to have some agency over the air quality that they are exposed to and the actions needed to tackle this.”


Air Quality Network

Includes health economist Dr Laure de Preux, who is helping local authorities quantify the ‘hidden costs’ of air pollution; Dr Audrey de Nazelle, whose work at the intersection of environmental sciences, health behaviour, transportation and urban planning is helping develop health-promoting built environments and policies; lung cell biologist Professor Terry Tetley who is an authority on pulmonary diseases related to inhaled toxicants; and Professor Fan Chung whose work looks at the negative impacts of urban air pollution on cardiovascular and respiratory health.


Dr Marc Stettler discusses aerosols and aircraft contrails



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Changing behaviours

Research and policy has focused on regulations and technological solutions to urban air pollution, but encouraging behavioural change could reduce overall concentrations of air pollution, and the public’s exposure. Lead Dr Audrey de Nazelle, Centre for Environmental Policy, published in Sustainability Science.

Air quality & COVID

The new report, led by School of Public Health’s Environmental Research Group and commissioned by the Mayor of London via Imperial Projects, provides a comprehensive overview of the best recent evidence and finds a link between toxic air and more severe cases of COVID-19.

Life Expectancy

A report for the Mayor of London by researchers from the School of Public Health’s Environmental Research Group predicts that London specific air quality policies, alongside wider improvements in air quality, will increase the average life expectancy of a child born in London in 2013 by six months, compared with 2013 concentrations remaining unchanged.

Driver Diesel Exposure

Exposure to diesel exhaust is known to cause heart and respiratory health problems, leading to hospitalisations and premature deaths. The Driver Diesel Exposure Mitigation Study, the largest real-world in-vehicle personal exposure study to date, found that professional drivers – including taxi drivers (the worst hit group), couriers, bus drivers and drivers working for our emergency services – are disproportionately affected by exposure to diesel exhaust fumes. Study by the MRC Centre for Environment and Health, funded by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

WHO’s guidelines

Imperial’s experts comment on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) new Air Quality Guidelines, which show there are harms to human health even at the lowest observable levels of exposure. Imperial’s Network of Excellence on Air Quality (NExAir) strongly encourage the UK government to take ambitious actions to reduce air pollution everywhere and as soon as possible.

Transport emissions

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) are not a silver bullet, reducing nitrogen dioxide levels by only a few per cent during the first few weeks of its implementation. Sustained improvements in air pollution require multiple measures. “[ULEZ] works best when combined with a broader set of policies that reduce emissions across sectors like bus and taxi retrofitting, support for active and public transport, and other policies on polluting vehicles,” Dr Marc Stettler.


INHALE research team are modelling air pollution and airflow in cities and exploring the effect of interventions such as roadside hedges or medication for at-risk people such as asthmatics. The trial will examine pollutants’ potential for cell and tissue damage, and how this relates to health outcomes. lead investigators are Professor Fan Chung, National Heart and Lung Institute and Professor Christopher Pain, Department of Earth Science and Engineering, in collaboration with the Universities of Surrey and Edinburgh.

Pedestrian Protection

Imperial researchers have designed a unique curved barrier which can protect people from the damaging effects of air pollution.
Dr Collins, Dr Huw Woodward, Centre for Environmental Policy, and Agamemnon Otero of Energy Garden, have published their findings in the journal Cities & Health. The researchers found that curved structures would more effectively disperse and reflect pollutants back towards the roads and would very rapidly improve air quality for pedestrians in an inexpensive manner.

Clean Air Programme

In the UK, poor air quality is a severe risk to public health, with air pollution responsible for 40,000 early deaths. It is estimated to cost £20 billion a year to health services and businesses. Four-year projects, funded by UKRI through the SPF Clean Air Programme, will investigate how air pollutants in indoor spaces such as homes, schools and workplaces can adversely affect the health of the people inhabiting in them.

Our consultants are world-leading experts in their field, committed to on-going research. Contact us today to see how they can help you improve air quality.

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