Image: Elliott Brown/ Flickr

Extinction Rebellion Warwick protest “illegal” poor air quality in Leamington Spa

Members of Extinction Rebellion Warwick and Leamington (XR) rallied against the unsafe high levels of air pollution underneath the railway bridge in Royal Leamington Spa on Sunday 20 October.

The group were educating members of the public as to the health risks that the levels of NO2 could possibly encourage, and the lack of action taken by Warwick District Council (WDC).

Warwick and Leamington’s XR branch called for pollution to be more urgently addressed by the District Council, writing in their demands that the “known illegal levels” of NO2 in Leamington Spa have “continued to increase”, and that is “unacceptable”. This is due to the fact that significant exposure to NO2 could possibly risk the health of those living in the area, particularly the oldest and youngest in society, and those suffering with respiratory problems.

The first demand made by those rallying was that “Warwick District Council tell the truth”. The group urged WDC to provide clear, unambiguous information for the public on the levels of NO2 in the area, as well as the health risks associated with this, and the annual progress made on reducing these levels.

The District Council website does not currently specify that the NO2 levels in the area are exceeding the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, nor that the level of pollution actually increased by an average of 10% from 2016 to 2017.

Exposure to a high concentration of NO2 as found underneath railway bridge and in other areas of Leamington can decrease lung function and increase the risk of respiratory problems.

WHO has recorded substandard air quality in the area three years in a row

One of the rebels told The Boar that the threat to local health really hit home for her after her pregnant, non-smoking friend was asked by a doctor if she smoked due to the levels of NO2 in her lungs.

The second demand made was that there should be “acceleration of efforts to reduce vehicle traffic”. This included the mention of a more developed walking and cycling infrastructure, alongside a clean public transport infrastructure.

The District Council have spoken of plans to improve air quality in Warwick and Leamington Spa, which in their 2018 report included developments along Europa Way “a sustainable ‘spine’ linking Leamington Spa and Warwick”. Other initiatives include 20mph zones in AQMAs which optimise traffic flow, and the on-going support of an Active Travel Campaign which promotes the public to switch to walking, running and cycling.

However, XR suggest “significant action is yet to be taken”.

This is not the first time that concerns for air pollution in Leamington Spa have been raised. WHO has recorded substandard air quality in the area three years in a row, last reported in May last year. In fact. Leamington Spa’s air pollution levels are among the worst in the country.

Looking specifically at the location of the protest, the railway bridge between Bath Street and Clemens Street, is noted as one of the pollution hotspots in the town, along with Rugby Road.

In comparison to national air quality objectives and limits, over the last five years WDC found that NO2 annual mean concentrations exceeded the 40μg/m3 limit in 12 locations situated within existing AQMAs, five of which wee located in Leamington. The highest increase was seen at High Street, which rose from 40.4μg/m3 in 2016 to 48.8μg/m3 in 2017.

The District Council website does not currently specify that the NO2 levels in the area are exceeding the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

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