High air pollution advisory notice

Date published: 24 November 2016

High levels of air pollution (particulate matter) are currently being monitored in Londonderry and Belfast. Moderate levels are being monitored in some other urban centres across Northern Ireland. It is likely that we will continue to see these elevated levels for as long as the current cold, calm weather persists, possibly into the weekend.

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The high levels of pollution are believed to be as a result of local pollution sources such as road vehicles and home heating emissions combined with cold, calm weather conditions in which pollutants are not being dispersed.

During periods of high pollution the symptoms of people with lung or heart disease may worsen. Healthy people are unlikely to experience any ill effects.

Hourly updates on levels of particulate matter (PM10), sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide are available on the Department’s website and the Department’s freephone helpline (0800 556677), which also offers health advice to those who may be particularly sensitive to air pollution.

Subscribers to the Air Aware service will also receive notification of this alert: see the NI Direct website.

Notes to editors: 

High air pollution forecast for Northern Ireland

1. Air pollution is described as “low (1-3)”, “moderate (4-6)”, “high (7-9)” or “Very High (10)” in relation to the presence of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone. Classifications are based upon the pollutant in the highest band based upon the advice of the independent Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution.

2. In addition to the sources of air quality information described in the press release, the information and the air pollution forecast is also sent by email, free of charge, every day to a variety of outlets including regional and national newspapers, television and radio stations, environmental groups, district councils, and international organisations. If you would like to be added to this individual service, ring the Government's contractors at Ricardo-AEA (Paul Willis on 0870 1906602).

3. There is also an SMS service ‘Air Aware’ which the public can subscribe to, to receive direct notification in the event of high air pollution episodes. Subscription to the alert service is by texting the word ‘AIR’ to 67300, and SMS alerts are free to UK mobile phones. Registration SMS messages will be charged at your network operator’s standard rate.

Health Advice

4. The following advice on health applies when air pollution is “high” or “very high”:

While most people will not be affected by short term peaks in air pollution, some people – particularly vulnerable groups such as those with existing heart or lung conditions – may experience increased symptoms. If you think you may be affected by air pollution levels, you should consider modifying your treatment as you usually do when symptoms increase and, consult your doctor if this is not effective. You may also wish to reduce the time you spend outdoors or avoid busy, congested streets.

If you have noticed in the past that your breathing is affected during cold, calm conditions or on hot, sunny days, you should avoid strenuous outdoor activity on those days and ensure that you have access to your usual medication, such as asthma inhalers. Children with asthma should be able to take part in games in the usual way, although they may need to increase their use of reliever medicines before participating. There is no need for them to stay away from school. If you suffer from a heart condition and notice a change in your symptoms, you should seek medical advice as you normally would.

Presentation of the information

5. When air pollution levels are presented to the public, an overall summary is provided followed by pollutant specific information. When the overall summary is presented for each region, levels of air pollution are described as those occurring in the highest band for any individual pollutant. For example, if levels of all pollutants in a region were low, with the exception of one pollutant that was high, then in the overall summary the air pollution for that region would be described as "high".

Action individuals can take to reduce pollution

6. We can all contribute to reducing the current high levels by avoiding burning solid fuels if possible, and by burning only smokeless fuels in smoke control areas. It is also important to avoid lighting bonfires while pollution levels are high.

7. Road vehicles are a major source of many pollutants in urban areas. Before using your car ask yourself – do I really need to make this journey? Do I really need to use the car, or could I walk or cycle?

8. If you must drive, switch off the engine if you expect to be stationary for more than a couple of minutes, and drive smoothly – it will save you fuel and money and you will emit less pollution.

9. Follow us on Twitter @daera_ni.

10. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or email DAERA Press Office: pressoffice.group@daera-ni.gov.uk. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07623 974 383 and your call will be returned.

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