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Air pollution: everybody’s problem

Last month (August) the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced changes aimed to tackle air pollution. National Highways will be legally obliged to work with councils to improve air quality, and councils must act more quickly to tackle areas of poor air quality.

UK100, a network of councils focused on climate change and clean energy, welcomed the move to make National Highways the first ‘relevant public authority’ for air quality. UK100’s chief executive Polly Billington told Local Government Chronicle:

“Toxic air doesn’t recognise local authority borders, and many sources of local pollution are outside local authority control. The national road network is a major source of pollution, so it is critical to get local leaders and National Highways to work together. No one stakeholder can tackle air pollution alone.”

Clearly, construction works can add to the problem of air pollution, due to an increase in vehicle movements and the use of diesel-powered equipment. In London, an inventory in 2019 showed that construction was responsible for 4% of nitrogen oxide emissions, 30% of PM10 and 7% of PM2.5. In areas where air pollution is already high, construction and roadworks can push pollution levels over the limits.

The devastating health effects of air pollution were underlined earlier this month (September) when scientists from the Francis Crick Institute in London published the findings of research into why air pollution causes lung cancer in people who have never smoked. They found that the fine particles in polluted air cause inflammation in the lungs which, in turn, triggers pre-existing cancer genes. The offending particles are PM2.5 – particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns – which are produced by vehicle exhausts and burning fuels such as diesel.

Defra’s revised guidance on managing air quality says that local authorities need to declare an air quality management area (AQMA) within 12 months of identifying a problem and have an action plan in place within a further 12 months. An AQMA is an area where air pollution has exceeded the nation air quality objectives which are set for nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and carbon dioxide.

The UK’s targets are not as stringent as those set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). For instance, PM2.5 targets in the UK (except Scotland) are 20 µg/m3 (10 µg/m3 in Scotland). In 2021, the WHO lowered its guidelines to 5 µg/m3 from 10 µg/m3 for PM2.5, saying that Governments should be doing more to reduce air pollution and protect public health.

Whatever legal limits are in place, it clearly makes sense to reduce harmful emissions. Thermal Road Repairs’ (TRR’s) pothole, joint and defect repair system has been designed to be far cleaner than traditional methods of repair. Because the TRR system involves heating the material in and around a pothole, crack or defect and then adding a small amount of hot top-up material, it requires no additional vehicle movements to take away failed material and bring in new material. There is just one unit which carries the small amount of top-up materials in an on-board hot box.

No dust is produced because there is no grinding or jack hammering required to remove material before the repair. The heaters are powered by LPG and solar panels, and TRR has now adapted its equipment to run on Biofuels. Knock-on benefits are that the process is ultra-quiet too and, since it is faster, congestion in surrounding roads can be reduced.

We already know that air pollution is deadly. It causes between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths in the UK every year according to Public Health England. The Francis Crick Institute’s work suggests it could be more. We should do everything we can to reduce it.

Thermal Road Repairs is a green technology company which supplies systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods. We invest significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve our existing ones.

High output. Zero emission. Zero waste. Permanent solution.


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