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Every breath you take….. A Citizen Science project measuring air quality in Manchester

event report

On Saturday 31st January, Manchester Friends of the Earth hosted the How Clean is My Air? workshop run by Andrew from the Network for Clean Air.  The workshop helped provide 12 people with the skills to undertake a ‘citizen science’ study of the air quality/ air pollution in their own neighbourhoods, how to plan the project, what equipment to use, how to create an air quality map and how to interpret the results.

Sue and Alice at Clean Air WorkshopThe workshop participants learnt about the two air pollutants of most concern – microscopic airborne particles, known as ‘PM10s’ as well as nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

In most cities and urban areas, pollution from road traffic, and particularly diesel fumes, is the most significant cause of  poor air quality.



Why is air pollution of concern?

The World Health Organization has confirmed that air pollution causes cancer. Poor air quality also causes heart attacks and children living near busy roads have been shown to grow up with underdeveloped lungs.

Officially, the number of premature deaths caused by particulate matter PM2.5 pollution across the UK each year is estimated to be 29,000, but this figure does not include deaths caused by nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which is more complicated to calculate and also to separate from the effects of PM2.5.

Diesel fumes are the main source of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a harmful gas linked with heart attacks and asthma.

A government committee (Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants – COMEAP) is due to publish a report on the number of premature deaths caused by nitrogen dioxide pollution in 2015.  Combining the NO2 mortality figures with the existing PM2.5 mortality estimates is expected to result in a significant increase in the official overall estimate of premature deaths caused by air pollution.

What is the situation in Manchester?

In Manchester, the Public Health England website indicates that 5.1% of all adult deaths each year are caused by particulate air pollution (PM2.5). This translates to over 1000 premature deaths each year across Greater Manchester.

When the estimates for the deaths caused by Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) pollution are released it is likely that the figure for Greater Manchester will be much higher.

In May 2013, Client Earth won a legal challenge at the Supreme Court which confirmed that the UK Government is in breach of the EU Air Quality Directive leaving the UK open to enforcement action at the national or European level.  The UK had failed to meet the 2015 air quality deadline and it was acknowledged that most urban regions and cities, including Manchester would not comply with the EU Air Quality Directive until 2020. In fact, Greater Manchester’s own modeling work paints a similar picture of exceedences beyond 2020 in some areas.

In November 2014, the European Court of Justice upheld a case brought by ClientEarth to force the UK government to take action to meet its Air Quality Directive targets.  This Directive requires member states which have failed to meet air quality limits to draw up plans to achieve them in the “shortest time possible”. However, UK government plans will not meet nitrogen dioxide limits until after 2030 – 20 years after the original deadline.

Because of the high levels of air pollution, the Greater Manchester authorities were required to develop a Local Air Quality Management Plan (see here) and monitors air pollution at several locations across the region (see map here).

Citizen Science- measuring Nitrogen Dioxide where we live

Air diffuser tube and sunsetThe air monitoring tubes used for the Citizen Science projects measure the amount of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) that is in the air we beathe.

At the workshop we decided to monitor four areas – Rusholme, Fallowfield, Stockport (St Mary’s Way) and Bradford ward.

The ‘diffuser’ tubes are placed on lamp posts or similar structures at a height of 2.5 – 3 metres off the ground.  They stay up for 1 month and are then posted to an accredited laboratory which analyses the levels of NO2 recorded.

We hope to have the NO2 data by early April. This will give us time to raise the issues with General election and local council election candidates to ask what they plan to do to reduce the number of people dying each year from the effects of air pollution.

There are several other groups monitoring air pollution in their local neighbourhoods.

The Breathe Clean Air Group have been measuring NO2 levels in Urmston and surrounding areas for the past year.

Several residents from the ‘Red Bricks’ in Hulme are planning a year-long air quality monitoring project.

How to get involved.

If you would like to get involved with this Citizen Science project please contact or to start your own Citizen Science project in your area please email

Latest News

One Wednesday 29th April, Client Earth won their court case in the UK Supreme Court.  The Court has ordered the Government to take “immediate action” on air pollution .

The Manchester-citizen-science-2015 results (xls file) are back from the laboratory.  Analysis and comment to follow soon.

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