Skip to main content

Our air quality hackathon returns - #AirHack2

When we hosted #AirHack in early 2017, air quality was becoming an increasingly pressing concern and was dominating the headlines as city after city broke their yearly target within weeks. The 2-day hackathon was one of our earliest and revealed that a lot of air quality data is either centralised or a bit harder to find. Now 3 years later, we will be launching #AirHack2 to see what has happened since, what we should be doing next, and how air quality sits within the greater context of health, wellbeing, and the Climate Emergency. Sydney Simpson, from Bradford Metropolitan District Council who are partnering on this event, has written this guest post to explain why tackling air pollution is vital.

Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases including lung cancer, leading to reduced life expectancy.

The air we breathe is not as clean as it should be for the good health of people and the environment. It is contaminated from many different sources locally, nationally and globally such as traffic, open fires, industry, agriculture and the chemicals we use in our everyday lives.

These produce a range of harmful pollutants:

  • microscopic particles (PM2.5, PM10) that make up smoke and dust from exhausts, brakes and tyres.
  • gasses such as nitrogen oxides (NOX) from burning fossil fuels and ammonia (NH3) from agricultural waste, slurry and fertiliser.
  • other gasses and vapours referred to as non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCS) from every day products we use at work or home like petrol, solvents, air fresheners, cleaning products and perfumes.

Some of these pollutants, or the processes that produce them, also contribute to climate change so improving air quality may also help reduce the production of greenhouse gasses.

Air pollution affects both respiratory function and circulatory health by causing inflammation. Smaller particles can also pass through the lungs into the blood causing heart attacks, strokes and other circulatory conditions. The effects can be short term, just lasting for the period of high pollution concentrations, but there are also long term impacts from a lower level of exposure over the course of our lives.

Vulnerable groups such as young children, the elderly and those with heart or breathing problems such as asthma are particularly affected.

Deprived communities are more likely to suffer from poor air quality because they are generally more exposed to air pollution, for example, by being close to major roads and have a higher incidence of existing health problems.

In Bradford, up to 687 of annual childhood asthma cases may be attributable to air pollution (38% of the total amount) Born in Bradford, 10 Key Findings. Version 2 28.01.2019.
Total preventable deaths attributed to man-made particulate air pollution In Bradford are estimated to be ~220 per year Gowers, Miller and Stedman (2014) - "Estimating local mortality burdens associated with particulate air pollution", Public Health England

Bradford Council and the University of Bradford will be collaborating with ODI Leeds to host #AirHack2 in September to look at:

  • devices to measure air quality
  • the availability and use-ability of existing air quality data
  • projects measuring and sharing air pollution levels
  • how to raise awareness, involve and empower communities
  • current community health initiatives focussing on air pollution
  • proposals to address air pollution e.g. Clean Air Zones

Bradford Council and the University of Bradford are partners in SCORE (Smart Cities and Open data RE-use) is a European funded project with nine cities and three universities across the North Sea region aiming to increase efficiency and quality of public services based on smart and open data-driven solutions.

It aims to co-create open source solutions by involving a wide range of organisations, businesses and communities in a living lab environment.