5 November 2019
This evening is bonfire night in the UK, when many people gather to light bonfires and set off fireworks – and, it turns out, create a spike in air pollution.
Thousands of sensors across Newcastle and Gateshead constantly take readings of fine particulate matter, and on 5 November last year they showed that measurements tripled between 8pm and midnight, when celebrations take place.
Levels rose from around 20 micrograms per metre cubed during the day to 80 μg/m³ just before 11pm. That figure compares with the annual average across the area of 25 μg/m³ and is eight times the World Health Organization’s recommended safe limit of 10 μg/m³.
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The data was collected as part of Newcastle University’s Urban Observatory, the UK’s largest urban experiment collecting data about city life, taking in around 60 studies of everything from energy use, noise, rainfall, pollution, traffic and social media use.
Phil James at Newcastle University said: “The air pollution data we collected over 24 hours last bonfire night paints a really striking picture of the impact the fireworks and bonfires are having on air quality.
“It’s perhaps not surprising – you can often smell the gunpowder and smoke in the air on November 5th – and the low cloud cover that night exacerbated the situation.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said pollution levels were not expected to remain high around bonfire night this year, with different weather conditions forecast from those experienced in 2018.
A Defra spokesman said: “Fireworks and bonfire celebrations can sometimes lead to temporarily increased levels of air pollution in localised areas, however we are expecting pollution levels to fall rapidly on bonfire night this year as the increased winds should disperse any particles.”
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