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Air quality

Clean air is important for human health and the environment.

Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. It's estimated to cost society more than £20 billion each year. Health problems caused by poor air quality range from asthma and coronary heart diseases to dementia and low birth weight in babies.

Evidence shows that areas of deprivation are likely to have poorer air quality. This leads to wider health inequalities. Groups that are particularly vulnerable to health problems caused by air pollution include children, pregnant women, those with pre-existing conditions and older people.  

Air pollution occurs when particles, gases or chemicals are released into the air which can cause human health problems. In Norfolk the four most damaging air pollutants are:  

  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) which is produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, gas and diesel. The majority of NO2 emissions in Norfolk come from transport - cars, trucks, buses, rail and shipping.  

  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) which is an acidic gas produced from burning coal and oil. Sources of SO2 are power stations, and industrial and domestic burning. 

  • Ammonia (NH3) which is largely caused by agricultural practices like management of slurry and farm waste.  

  • Particulate matter (PM10 or PM2.5) is small and ultra fine particles that are not visible to the human eye but you can inhale without noticing. This can come from natural sources such as pollen, sea spray and dust particles. It's also caused by smoke from fires, exhaust fumes, brake pads and tyres on cars.  

Air quality in Norfolk is mainly good. But there are four areas within the county that have levels of NO2 emissions that are above Government guidelines.

In these areas partners work together to develop Air Quality Management Plans. These are in place in Swaffham, Norwich and two in King's Lynn.  

Public Health is exploring new ways of working with communities and our partners to protect and promote good health and inclusion. We take a place-based approach to tackling the causes of poor health outcomes like air quality.

We'll work with partners and communities to encourage and enable the development of local action to deliver clean air for all and other outcomes to protect human health. 

Frequently asked questions

What is air pollution made up from?

Air pollution comes from a range of sources, including some nearby, like vehicles, industrial and agricultural processes, heating systems, and some from further afield.  The proportion of pollution that reaches us from each source depends on the weather, the location, the time of day, and several other factors. Wherever you are, you'll breathe in some of this pollution.


Does air pollution increase levels of asthma?

There is no proven link between ambient air pollution and asthma. However studies suggest that asthma and other respiratory conditions can be aggravated by air pollution. The evidence to date indicates that this effect is relatively small when compared with several other factors that contribute to asthma symptoms, eg smoking. 

Source: Clean Air Day


Does sitting in a parked car give bad air quality, or cause bad health?

Various surveys have found that pollution levels inside cars can be higher than those in the surrounding ambient air.  With modern cars, it is advisable to switch off car engines when stationary or while queuing in traffic, even for short periods. 

Source: DEFRA


Does turning my engine off, make a difference?

Yes, it does! King's College London worked with Global Action Plan and the Cross River Partnership to measure the impact of 'no-idling days'. The results showed that turning off engines had the most impact where pollution was highest and where the no-idling action was focused. In those places, air pollution peak concentrations were reduced by as much as 20-30%. 

Source: Clean Air Day


What are the risks of air pollution to cyclists?

Would travelling outside or rush hour, or along less congested roads, significantly lessen any of the risks?

There is, at present, no clear answer to this question and we are unable to comment on the different levels of risk to individual persons. Cycling is becoming more accepted as a solution to urban air quality problems, and is recognised as a healthy form of exercise. It has been suggested that to a healthy person with no respiratory problems, the benefits of cycling may outweigh the effects of air pollution. Levels of pollution may be higher in the centre of the road, leading to greater exposure to drivers than to pedestrians and cyclists.

Read more about this on the DEFRA website.


Will I be exposed to less air pollution while cycling on back roads?

Yes. You will be exposed to up to 20% less air pollution by choosing to cycle on a quieter route. The National Cycle Network is a countrywide network of cycle paths that pass through the centre of every major town in the UK. These are usually quieter roads or designated cycle ways, such as the pedalways cycle routes in Norwich (opens new window)

Source: Clean Air Day


What is indoor pollution and how to avoid it?

There are many chemicals and organisms that can pollute the air in your home, from aerosol cans to cleaning material as noted below:

  • Volatile organic compounds (furniture and carpets)
  • Carbon monoxide (tobacco smoke - vaping does not produce carbon monoxide), heating and cooking appliances
  • Humidity (cooking, showering, washing and ironing)
  • Toxic (mould spores found in household dust)
  • Odours (cooking and pets)
  • Allergens (house dust mites)
  • Carbon dioxide (household appliances and residents)
  • Chemicals (bleach, deodorants, cleaning products and fabric softener)

Preventing indoor air pollution is sometimes easier than reducing or removing it.

Statutory duties

Norfolk County Council

We have a statutory obligation under Environment Act 1995, Part IV, Section 80; Environmental Protection Act 1990 Section 7; Environment Act 1995, Part 4; Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 to prevent the pollution from emissions to air, land or water.

As the Highway Authority we are obliged to find solutions to air quality issues through the AQMA process where pollution comes from transport sources.

District councils

All district councils have a statutory obligation under Environment Act 1995, Part IV, Section 80; Environmental Protection Act 1990 Section 7; Environment Act  1995, Part 4; Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 to prevent the pollution from emissions to air, land or water with obligations to continuously review and monitor air pollution.

For more information on their role, contact your local district, borough or city council.

Air quality management meetings are held quarterly between all the Districts and Norfolk County Council.

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