Monday, November 06, 2017

Maps, Open Data and the Call for Cleaner Air

Screenshot of the Clean Air Merton Map of Air Quality results across Merton, London.
Those of you who know me personally, know that I've suffered with allergic rhinitis (that's hay fever triggered by more than just pollen) since I was a child. After a hiatus from symptoms in my teens and early twenties, a spell working in fashion retail in Knightsbridge with our store doors open all day and the relentless stop-start traffic outside caused my allergic rhinitis to return with a vengeance and it has never yet relented. This summer, during the heatwave week when NOx levels were exceptionally high in London I suffered, what I now know was an asthma attack. I had a worse one a few weeks later and ended up in hospital in the urgent care unit hardly able to breathe. Both attacks probably triggered by air pollution. This isn't trivial. That second asthma attack was very frightening indeed. I read someone describing an asthma attack as feeling like you're drowning in air. That pretty much sums it up.

Reading around the topic of asthma and pollution, I discovered that my local area is a hotspot for pollution and registered twice the legal levels of NOx in recent tests. It's a busy main road, there's a roundabout and lots of traffic lights and there's a lot of traffic that stops and starts causing much of the pollution. There are roads just like that all over London and up and down the country. I knew that parts of London had problems with air pollution, but I didn't realise how close to home it is. Air pollution is an issue which respects no boundaries.

As a result, I'm all for having cleaner air to breathe and luckily for me there are people already working towards this in my local area from several different community groups. They've teamed up and shared their air quality results with those of the council and mapped them on Google Maps. It makes for interesting reading. You'll need to be looking at Wimbledon, Mitcham and Morden to see the results. The black markers are over the legal NOx levels, the yellow markers are not far off the legal levels and the blue markers (there are only 2 of them across the borough) are well below the legal levels.

That's pretty depressing. The area where I live has lots of green space. I live within walking distance of Figge's Marsh, Mitcham Common, Ravensbury Park, Morden Hall Park, Tooting Common and Beddington Park. Yet still we're suffering. The picture will be similar up and down the country.

Mitcham Cricket Green Community & Heritage has lots of action points to improve air quality in Merton and one hopes that both normal citizens as well as those in authority in local government and business take note and take action.

The good news is that this data is  open data and therefore public which means anyone can see it and contribute to it. A big thank you to the contributors and administrators. This is important work and necessary to help us understand the impact we are having on our own environment. If we know what we're dealing with, we can find solutions. Let's all work towards having cleaner air to breathe.

Day 6/30 NaBloPoMo