Key facts and figures on what’s in our air, where it comes from, and why we should worry.
There’s a growing awareness that air pollution damages our health and that as a city we need to take action. But what’s the science behind this? What are the effects on our health? How bad is the problem in Bristol and which areas are worse affected? Get clued up on air pollution.
What are the key pollutants?
What is it?
Where does it come from?
Road vehicles, and also cooking, heating or power generation
Where does Bristol’s NO2 come from?
Over 80% comes from local traffic sources, over 96% of vehicle NO2 emissions come from diesel vehicles
To fix this, we need less traffic on the roads, but…
The numbers of cars and vans on Bristol’s roads have tripled in the last 40 years
Bristol is one of the most dangerous cities to cycle in, with nearly twice the average number of accidents recorded in 2017
A 2017 study ranked Bristol as the worst city to travel within out of 33 cities
Congestion can mean buses on certain routes have an average speed of just 6mph
Only 1 in 11 people commuting in the West of England travel by bus
Meanwhile, 2 in 3 commutes are by car, and of those, 2 in 5 commutes are less than 2km
What is it?
Small particles – ‘particulate matter’ – in the air, containing a variety of components
The numbers in PM10 and PM2.5 refer to the size of the particulate matter in micrometers. PM2.5, the smallest, is more damaging to human health as it can pass into the body, through the lungs to the bloodstream
Where does it come from?
Road traffic emissions, particularly from diesel vehicles. It is also emitted from industrial combustion plants and public power generation and commercial and residential fuel burning, such as the use of wood burning stoves
New evidence shows domestic fuel burning, for example from woodburners, contributes 38% of PM2.5 emissions nationally
Using a woodburning stove, even the most modern and ‘clean’, creates the same PM emissions per hour as 18 diesel cares or 6 lorries.
There is no safe level of exposure to PM
What are the health impacts?
Research is frequently finding new evidence of air pollution’s impact on our health, such as recent reports on how air pollution may increase the risk of miscarriage or depression. Here are a few of the most common impacts.
Children – Can stunt lung function growth
Adults – Can make lung function decline faster / Exacerbates respiratory conditions like COPD and bronchitis
Eyes, nose and throat:
Irritation and breathing problems
Neurodevelopment and cognition:
Evidence suggests links between exposure to air pollution and small cognitive deficits in childhood, and accelerated cognitive decline in adulthood
Air pollution can make asthma symptoms worse and can cause onset asthma in children and adults
Exacerbates heart disease, heart attacks, heart failure and strokes
Strong evidence shows that outdoor air pollution causes cancer
New evidence suggests there is a link between air pollution and type-2 diabetes
Low birth weights
Who is most affected?
Lawrence Hill & Central Wards
Hengrove & Whitchurch Park
Percentage of deaths attributable to air pollution differ by ward. Air pollution impacts most on vulnerable groups – children and older people, and those with pre-existing conditions. Air quality is often worse in deprived and central areas – where rates of car ownership are low.
Air pollution impacts most on vulnerable groups – children and older people, and those with pre-existing conditions. Air quality is often worse in deprived and central areas – where rates of car ownership are low.
How does Bristol compare?
In Bristol, early death rates from respiratory disease are significantly higher than the national average. But it has the second lowest rate compared to the eight other ‘core cities’.
How bad is Bristol’s problem?
Thousands of people and dozens of schools reside in Bristol’s Air Quality Management Area, which is exposed to dangerous, and illegal, levels of NO2
Number of deaths per year attributable to air pollution
Percentage of deaths each year
Sources: Environmental Protection UK, Bristol City Council 2018 Annual Air Quality Status Report, Royal College of Physicians,
2016. Evidence Review, ClairCity, Clean Air for Bristol, Health Impact of Air pollution in Bristol, Bristol City Council,
Travelwest Draft Joint Local Transport Plan 4, BCC Joint Strategic Needs Assessment 2018