Revealed: only 1 in 10 think their air quality is bad despite toxic levels of air pollution across the UK

Press release
Friends of the Earth launches nationwide citizen science air pollution experiment as 38 out of 43 air quality zones across the country are breaching legal limits for air pollution.
  Published:  01 Mar 2017    |      3 minute read

Friends of the Earth is calling on the UK public to take part in a ground-breaking nationwide experiment on air pollution as a YouGov poll reveals that although nearly two thirds of British adults (61%) say they are concerned about air pollution, only 1 in 10 (11%) rate their own air quality as bad, on a scale of 0 to 10 - despite large parts  of the UK breaking pollution limits.

Air pollution is linked to heart disease, lung cancer, worsening asthma and poor lung development in children and leads to the premature deaths of around 40,000* people every year in the UK. But today’s results suggest that despite the issue of air pollution grabbing the headlines, the message about how bad air quality is across the UK isn’t getting through.

33% of Londoners did describe the air they breathe as bad, but this dropped to an average of just 7.5% for the rest of the country despite the fact that according to Defra 38 out of 43 air quality zones across the UK are breaching legal air pollution limits.

Friends of the Earth is today (1 March) launching what they hope will be the biggest ever citizen science air pollution experiment to help people find out more about the air they’re breathing. Friends of the Earth’s ‘Clean Air Kits’ enable people to test the air quality near them, as well as providing people with tips on how to avoid air pollution and what they can do to help support the fight for clean air.

The environmental charity is hoping thousands will join in the experiment so that they can create a comprehensive national air pollution picture. The data generated by the experiment will feed into a national map which will help create a “state of the nation” report on air pollution. 

Oliver Hayes, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said:

“With only 1 in 10 British adults rating their air quality as poor despite swathes of the country breaking legal limits for air pollution, it seems the message about the scale and danger of air pollution isn’t getting through.

“Often you can’t see it, or smell it, but it’s there – and air pollution is risking the health of an entire generation of children.

“Our Clean Air Kits help people to find out about the air quality in the places they care about most: on the street where they live, where they work, where their children go to school and at the heart of their communities.

“The results will help us build up a localised picture of the state of our nation’s air to really bring home why everyone, from individuals, to businesses and politicians must do all they can to make the air we breathe safer.”

Dr Benjamin Barratt, Air Quality Science Lecturer at King’s College London, said:

“Friends of the Earth’s Clean Air Kits are a valuable tool in enabling people to discover what air pollution is like in places that matter to them. If enough people take part, the data they gather could shed new light on the reality of pollution at a local level throughout the country.”


Editor’s notes:

  1. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,740 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd - 24th February 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
  2. Participants in the YouGov survey were asked to rate their air quality out of 10, with 0 being ‘very bad’ and 10 ‘very good’. 1 in 10 British adults (11%) rated their air quality as between 0-3 out of 10 ie ‘bad’, 31% as ‘medium’ (i.e. 4-6), 51% as ‘good’ (7-10).
  3. Defra’s air quality plan shows the number of ‘air quality zones’ across the country breaching legal limits for NO2:
  4. Order Friends of the Earth’s Clean Air Kit.
  5. The Clean Air Kit enables people to get a snapshot of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels. NO2 is a toxic gas which inflames the lining of the lungs. The legal annual mean limit for NO2 is 40 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3).
  6. Friends of the Earth’s ‘Clean Air’ campaign is supported by the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.

If you're a journalist looking for press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.

*In September 2018 the government's Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) revised this figure to “up to 36,000 premature deaths a year”.