Air quality, pollution and monitoring

Air quality, pollution and monitoring

Having clean air to breathe protects our wellbeing and keeps us healthy. Pollutants in the air come mainly from human activities such as industry, burning fuel, road traffic and building heating. Some also come from natural sources such as the sea, wind-blown dust and decomposing organic matter.

It is estimated that air pollution shortens the life of many people in the UK. Long-term exposure to air pollution reduces life expectancy by increasing deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, and from lung cancer. It is estimated that long-term exposure to air pollution in the UK has an annual effect equivalent to 28,000 to 36,000 deaths (Health matters: air pollution).

The Environment Act 1995 requires the Council to review and assess the air quality in Newcastle each year, looking specifically at the nine air pollutants in the Government's National Air Quality Strategy:

  • Particles (PM10 and PM2.5)

  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

  • Ozone (O3)

  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)

  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)

  • Benzene (C6H6)

  • 1,3 Butadiene

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)

  • Lead

The assessments form part of the Local Air Quality Management guidance which works towards achieving National Air Quality objectives. To protect health and the environment, standards for pollution levels have been set by the Government, the European Union and the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

The effects of air quality on health

Air pollution has an impact on everyone living and working in our city. However, it is the most vulnerable people such as children, older people and those with heart and respiratory conditions who will experience the effects most. People living near busy roads are exposed to higher levels of road traffic pollution.


Particulate matter (PM)

  • can harm the human respiratory and cardiovascular systems - it is linked to asthma and also to mortality

  • research shows that particles with a diameter of ten microns (one seventh the width of a human hair) and smaller (PM10) are likely to be inhaled deep into the respiratory tract

  • as smaller particles can penetrate deeper, the health impacts of PM2.5 are especially significant


Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)

  • can cause inflammation of the airways

  • can cause irritation to eyes, nose and throat

  • with long-term exposure, can affect lung function and respiratory symptoms.

  • can increase the symptoms for people with existing medical conditions, such as asthma and emphysema


Air pollution also causes damage to plants and animals, and affects biodiversity and crop yields.

The effects of air pollution on health are described on the DEFRA website.


Monitoring air quality

We monitor air quality across the Newcastle so that we know and understand where problems with air quality are happening. The pollutant of most concern to us in Newcastle is Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) primarily caused by road traffic.

Whilst we do not exceed permitted levels for particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) the WHO have said there is no level of particulate matter at which people's health is not damaged. DEFRA's Clean Air Strategy states, 'Burning solid fuel in open fires and stoves makes up 38% of the UK’s primary emissions of fine particulate matter1 (PM2.5).'

We have four automatic monitoring stations, measuring a variety of pollutants. The monitors are in locations where we think air pollution may be at risk of going above national air quality objectives.


Monitoring station locations:

  • St. Mary’s Place (Automatic Urban Network monitors PM2.5, PM10, NO2, benzene and polyarormatic hydrocarbons (e.g. flourene and pyrene)

  • Percy Street (monitors NO2)

  • Jesmond Road (monitors NO2 and PM10)

  • Pilgrim Street, off Swan House roundabout (monitors NO2)

The monitoring data results can be viewed in our Air Quality Annual Status Report (see below). Our most recent monitoring data for Jesmond Road can also be viewed online at Air Quality.

We also have 75 non-automatic monitoring stations at locations across the city to monitor roadside levels of nitrogen dioxide.


Annual air quality progress reports

The technical reports below show the monitoring results for the City over the past seven years and how air quality levels have changed and been influenced by developments in the city.

Air quality management areas (AQMAs)

We have air quality action plans which show how we will tackle problems within the two air quality management areas (AQMAs) that have been declared in the city. The AQMAs in Newcastle are:

City Centre AQMA

Gosforth AQMA

These action plans set out the measures we want to put in place to improve air quality and to meet the standards set in the National Air Quality Strategy.


Our plans include the following measures:

  • Working with local bus operators to accelerate the use of cleaner buses

  • Reducing traffic entering the city centre

  • Fund retrofit older buses with clean emission technology

  • Freight consolidation facilities for the city centre and for the Eldon Square Shopping Centre

  • Development of a permit scheme for taxis and private hire vehicles

  • Electric vehicle charging points

  • Travel plans at major employers in the city centre and other key areas of employment

  • Encouraging more healthy options of travel, such as cycling and walking

  • Discouraging engine idling


Additional monitoring and evaluation

Over and above our annual air quality monitoring, an additional piece of work was undertaken in 2018 in conjunction with Newcastle University. A dedicated Data Scientist analysed air quality monitoring data for the periods of the temporary closures of Blackett Street to vehicles during the Great Exhibition of the North.


Useful external links


Need more information?

To see how we are dealing with

pollution from traffic, please see

our pages on Transport and air quality


We can all make simple changes

to help reduce improve air quality -

see our guide on ways to help to

reduce air pollution

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