CONCERNS have been raised after Dormanstown, near Redcar, was recently shown to have the highest air pollution levels in the country, albeit for a short period.
Data compiled by the website Air Quality England – a resource provided for local councils so they can fulfil their statutory duties in terms of regularly reviewing and assessing local air quality – shows that on March 23 Dormanstown was the only monitoring site in England to be in the ‘very high’ air pollution bracket.
This was primarily due to levels of very fine particulate matter in the air – minute particles that are created when elements such as dust and carbon dioxide emissions react with each other.
Particulate matter in this category can be breathed in and get into the lungs and bloodstream with evidence showing it can be a factor in premature deaths, allergic reactions and cardiovascular diseases.
Local authorities are expected to work towards reducing emissions and/or concentrations of so-called PM 2.5.
Last week saw a distinct set of circumstances whereby homegrown pollution wasn’t being easily dispersed into the atmosphere due to the very still and calm air over much of the country.
An independent air quality analyst, who shared the data with the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), said this had combined with spring-time pollution imported from continental Europe, originating from fertiliser spread on farmers’ fields, causing high pollution levels on parts of the east coast.
Levels in Dormanstown, which is in the shadow of the Wilton industrial complex, have since returned to normal.
The analyst, who described being part of a like-minded network of individuals concerned about pollution and providing advice and support to local communities, and wishes to stay anonymous, said: “Quite often the authorities do not want to admit any issue or problem as you don’t want to go alarming people unnecessarily.
“I am not a sandal-wearing environmentalist, nor do I do this for recognition, I’m just interested in why some areas sometimes have higher levels of pollution than others and believe communities need to be aware.
“I also believe people have the right to know what they are breathing in.”
He added: “It’s well known that being next to a known pollution source, such as a busy main road can affect young children and those with asthma and other conditions.
“It can affect health and wellbeing and mean people die at a faster rate.
“So typically monitoring stations are placed away from known pollution sources as it would skew the findings.
“They are situated across towns and cities and monitor background/ambient levels of pollution for use in modelling across a wider area.”
Dormanstown has an automatic monitoring site operated by Redcar and Cleveland Council which is located within the grounds of a school, subjected to the prevailing wind direction for three quarters of the year and within 4km of the borough’s main industrial and chemical complexes.
The LDRS approached both Defra and the Environment Agency asking them to comment on the recent circumstances in Dormanstown and while a spokesman working on behalf of both bodies offered an explanation of events generally, neither would issue a statement.
Defra works with health partner organisations and local authorities to make sure that people who are vulnerable to fluctuations in air quality levels, such as those with existing health conditions, are kept informed and given health advice as required.
It advises residents wishing to find out more about air pollution to visit the website uk-air.defra.gov.uk which issues alerts about pollution.
‘Adverse health impacts’
Environmental campaigner Rowan Mclaughlin described the pollution level in Dormanstown on the aforementioned day as “dreadful”.
She said: “It is not surprising given the concentration of industry in the area.”
The former Green Party general election candidate in Redcar, who is the chair of the group Stop Incineration North East (SINE), previously grilled Redcar and Cleveland Council leader Mary Lanigan over the prospect of a new £300m ‘waste from energy’ plant set to be built at Teesworks, which the local authority is a partner in.
SINE is attempting to plot the plume from the planned incinerator, which will burn up to 450,000 tonnes a year of domestic solid waste that can’t be recycled from one and-a-half million households across the North-East and could be up and running by April 2026.
It wants council leaders to cancel the planned build, having previously stated: “Just when we are all doing our best to cut greenhouse gases and air pollution, our councils are planning to truck hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste from all over the North- East and burn it in a new monster incinerator.”
Ms Mclaughlin said: “Given these pollution levels it is unethical to be even considering building something locally that would make the conditions for local people and wildlife even worse.”
In 2019 an air quality annual status report published by Redcar and Cleveland Council Air said pollution was associated with a number of adverse health impacts and recognised as a contributing factor in the onset of heart disease and cancer.
It said: “Additionally, air pollution particularly affects the most vulnerable in society: children and older people, and those with heart and lung conditions.
“There is also often a strong correlation with equality issues, because areas with poor air quality are also often the less affluent areas.”
The report said there had in fact been consistently good air quality in areas where the public was regularly exposed to air pollution in the borough, and this was below Government objective levels and showing a downwards trend each year.
It added: “Redcar and Cleveland has an extensive coastline within its boundary which has the potential to be a source of high levels of natural particulates.
“During times of strong north-easterly weather, this may have health implications for vulnerable members of the public.”
Council areas that fail to meet air quality objectives are declared as air quality management areas and have to put in place action plans setting out how they will ensure compliance.
Redcar and Cleveland Council previously declared a borough-wide ‘climate emergency’ and wants to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Councillor Steve Kay, cabinet member for health and welfare, said: “The very recent periods of poor air quality within Redcar and Cleveland can be attributed to the recent warm weather experienced across the UK, linked to the Saharan dust storms, which has seen high pressure carrying polluted particles from Europe.
“The warm temperatures, in combination with low wind weather conditions has meant that air flow has not progressed as normal causing pollution to linger in the atmosphere.
“The Council has a continuous air quality monitoring site in Dormanstown, close to the large industrial sites of Wilton and Teesworks.
“The site has been in operation since 2012 and has historically shown no poor air quality and we are routinely well within the air quality objective levels specified by the UK Government.”
Councillor Louise Westbury, who holds the climate change portfolio at the council, said modern energy recovering facilities like the new plant due to be built on a 25 acre site at Teesworks would have to meet strict environmental standards and would be closely monitored by the Environment Agency .
She said: “It is essential that waste, which cannot be recycled, is dealt with and the energy-recovery process produces less overall greenhouse gas emissions than landfill.
“The Tees Valley energy recovery facility will have a range of systems which prevent pollutants being released into the atmosphere and its emissions will be constantly monitored in real-time.
“The bidders to operate the TV ERF are required to demonstrate through the tender process how they will reduce carbon emissions from the site year on year over the duration of the contract and are actively pursuing the deployment of carbon capture and storage technology as part of a wider ‘East Coast Cluster’ scheme which will include Humberside as well as Teesside.”
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