Toxic fumes still above legal limit for St Albans city centre

Cllr Simon Grover is worried about the continuing problem of air pollution in the town centre.

Cllr Simon Grover is worried about the continuing problem of air pollution in the town centre. - Credit: Archant

St Albans’ air pollution woes are being tackled one bus at a time, but the city is still being choked by a nasty smelling gas from vehicles.

'Peahen' junction, St Albans city centre

'Peahen' junction, St Albans city centre - Credit: Archant

The latest figures on the levels of nitrous dioxide – an air pollutant which increases the likelihood of respiratory problems - show that it is still surpassing the legal limit in the business heart of St Albans.

Such an admission comes as no surprise to Green councillor Simon Grover, who told a recent meeting that too little has been done since the risk to public health was aired 12 years ago.

The Peahen junction was declared an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in 2004 after studies found the levels of nitrogen dioxide exceeded those deemed safe by experts.

At the recent inaugural community, environment and leisure scrutiny committee meeting, councillors discussed the result of several publicly funded projects initiated to solve the problem.

Flashback photo: Cllr Simon Grover and Green Party members at the Peahen junction

Flashback photo: Cllr Simon Grover and Green Party members at the Peahen junction - Credit: Archant

One of these involved modifying Uno buses with an “intelligent system” to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions.

A report to the committee said: “The Peahen junction is an area that will particularly benefit as the majority of modified buses will pass through this busy junction.”

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Carlton Lomax, the environmental compliance manager, said: “The problem is, with air pollution, that it doesn’t recognise boundaries. Air pollution drifts; we are at the centre of three major motorways, and so that does have a big influence on pollution in the area.”

He said that, while the legal annual mean limit is 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) per cubic metre of air (µg/m3), January’s level was 54; February was 55, and March and April both reached 44 µg/m3.

Several grants have been secured to help bring down the amount of nitrogen dioxide - two from Defra for £50,500 and £25,800, and one from the Department for Transport (DfT) for £142,000.

While the latter, given jointly to St Albans district and Herts county councils and the bus operator Uno from DfT’s clean bus technology fund, has resulted in the successful retro-fitting of emission improvement technology onto 40 buses, the Defra-funded schemes are yet to reach a conclusion, because of staffing problems.

Those projects include an emissions study, looking more deeply in to air quality issues in St Albans and to devise measures with a high likelihood of reducing pollution; and traffic modelling will show how processes such as gear changes affect vehicle emissions, along with the impact of the physical environment, such as the road gradient.

Carlton explained that study included emission modelling, researching how increasing vehicle speed or the removal of idling emissions or the change of certain types of vehicles within the city centre’s air quality monitoring area - at the Peahen junction - would be affected.

This is linked to the second Defra project which includes a freight management plan, looking at the inappropriate use of Heavy Good Vehicles (HGVs), unnecessary traffic coming through that area, and the restriction of polluting HGVs.

An unimpressed Cllr Grover asked: “What do we think we are going to actually do? Is there anything on the to-do list that is going to make a real difference? We’ve got this bus project which is done and had a small but significant affect on those buses … but we just seem to be making such slow progress.”

Cllr Jamie Day said that air quality was not just an issue at the Peahen junction, “but any area in the district where there is heavy traffic, particularly lorries and queues, with diesel engines blaring out smoke - we can all smell how bad it is, so that needs attention across the district.”