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Jersey breaches EU pollution limits

Exclusive: Children in Jersey are being exposed to pollution levels that breach legal limits set by the EU

Story makes the front page of the Jersey Evening Post

I n March this year an advertisement came up from Friends of the Earth with the offer to purchase a Clean Air Kit. The kit allows you to test your local area for pollution levels. It was simple, put the tube up for two weeks and then send off your results to the UK to be analysed by scientists. All for just £15.

Many times I had walked to and from work, down and up St Saviour’s hill, in all kinds of weather, passing many children on their way to school and adults on their way to work. On certain days traffic is horrendous, cars, buses and lorries congested all the way down the hill. Other days, vehicles speed up the hill, exhaust fumes firing out towards the pavement where people are walking.

My Clean Air Tube was placed behind the 30mph sign on St Saviour’s Hill

St Saviour’s Hill therefore would be a good location to test. I searched for a spot where I could be as close to the pavement where children would be walking but without the tube being seen and possibly removed. I picked a speed sign just outside the entrance to the Lieutenant Governor’s house. So for two weeks from March the 20th to April the 4th, it measured the pollution emissions on St Saviour’s Hill.

The next day I sent it off to the UK to be analysed. The results came in….42.59 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre of air) of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2). That meant during the time my air monitoring tube was up over those two weeks NO2 pollution levels were above the European Union legal limit, which is set at an annual mean of 40µg/m3.

It’s important to note that this represents just a snapshot of the air pollution for St Saviour’s Hill during the year. There are days when the pollution levels could be higher and days when they could be lower. Lots of things can also affect pollution levels over the course of a year, such as variations in the weather, holidays, road works etc. During the two week period there was a mix of both fine weather as well as heavy rain.

The Air pollution levels can also vary greatly depending on how close the tube is to where the pollution comes from. So there is a reduction in levels when even a few metres from the source. My tube was only a couple of feet from where pedestrians would be walking and breathing, which was the point.

To ensure more accurate results, all diffusion tubes returned require calibration and adjusting alongside government figures. This is called a bias adjustment. Friends of the Earth have spoken to experts in monitoring and have adjusted all results for accuracy using a bias correction factor for the particular type of diffusion tube used.

Friends of the Earth air pollution map

These results, sent in from all over the UK, are helping Friends of the Earth build a picture of air pollution across the UK, and are part of a national investigation they’re running with King’s College London and, for the first time, Jersey is now part of the UK air pollution mapping (Guernsey appears to have beaten us to the first one in the Channel Islands and also got a healthier reading).

According to Friends of the Earth most areas of the UK are breaching EU legal limits for deadly NO2, with Forty towns and cities in the UK breaking World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline limits for fine particle pollution. London has some of the dirtiest air in Europe with some NO2 scores way up into 90s in certain areas.

Air pollution is one of the biggest killers on the planet and a major environment-related threat to children according to the WHO. Short term and long term exposure to NO2 can have significant negative health effects and even if pollution is within legal or WHO guideline limits, it doesn’t mean the air is safe.

Cancer, heart disease and asthma have all been linked to poor air quality, and it’s usually the most vulnerable in society, like children, who are at the most risk. The States of Jersey website explains the risks associated with pollution:

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) causes inflammation of the airways at high concentrations. These gases irritate the airways of the lungs, increasing the symptoms of those suffering from lung diseases, including asthmatics.”

Hydrocarbons at low concentrations are unlikely to pose a health risk, but long-term exposure can cause a wide variety of potential health effects ranging from irritation through to cardiovascular and central nervous system damage an cancer. Exposure is also linked to premature deaths for people suffering with lung or heart disease.

Diesel is by far one of the worst offenders for producing the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide. Even the most recent, Euro 6, diesel cars emit more than 5 times as much nitrogen oxides as Euro 6 petrol cars. On top of the usual detrimental health impacts listed above the WHO has also confirmed that diesel emissions are a definite cause of lung cancer and may also cause tumors in the bladder.

Chris Griffiths, professor of primary care and public health at Bart’s and the London School of Medicine has stated that there are no safe levels of exposure to diesel fumes. As the below States of Jersey 2015 Energy Trends graph demonstrates, since the early nineties the consumption and use of Diesel on Jersey roads has only steadily risen:

Rise of Diesel: States of Jersey Energy Trends 2015 report

In 2005, Jersey was reported to have the highest car ownership per head of population in the world. The number of vehicles contained on the vehicle register (not on the road) in 2005 was 101,583. By December 2014 the number had increased to 121,551 vehicles. This equates to an additional 19,968 vehicles registered over the nine year period or, on average, an extra 2,218 vehicles registered every year.

Attempts to reduce traffic in St Helier were shown to have failed in a 2016 report, with ‘peak time traffic congestion’ only decreasing by 1.6% compared to the 15% reduction the government set out to achieve in 2010. This led to the acceptance by government officials that a ‘significantly revised approach’ was needed to address the problem.

Prior to the above report, the Health Minister, Senator Andrew Green, was questioned earlier that year in the States Assembly on current air pollution levels. He acknowledged that air pollution limits had been breached in St Helier but appeared to downplay the issue, stating that it was under “certain climatic conditions” and for “short periods” and that there were “only two areas that failed on a couple of occasions”.

The below graph was randomly taken by me from the States air quality monitoring site for this article, but even it appears to show levels above the 40µg/m3 EU legal limit. The PM2.5 particles, highlighted in green below, are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, fine particles that are produced from all types of combustion, including motor vehicles.

Apparently breaching car pollution levels (PM2.5) Halkett Place

Viewing the above graph, it seems right to question the assertion that levels are being breached on just a couple of occasions and my test on St Saviour’s Hill clearly shows that there are more than just two areas in Jersey that are breaching the 40µg/m3 limits. When questioned further on what steps he was taking to improve air quality Senator Green responded:

What can I do about it? The only thing we could do is to reduce the use of the motor car or to ban the use of diesel. Those are the only things that would make a difference.

The question then is why not ban the sale of diesel cars if they demonstrably cause cancer? Isn’t that the reason we banned cigarette smoking from public spaces? Why not provide real incentives that could help people transition from fossil fuel based cars to electric vehicles?

You could adjust the Vehicles Emissions Duty to make it more punitive on higher emitting vehicles and simply ban the purchase of new diesel cars. You could offer grants similar to the electric bike scheme but on electric vehicles, or provide interest free loans. The point is, there are a number of stronger options that could be implemented to reduce the amount of dangerous emissions and vehicles on the road.

Despite the States monitoring specific areas in town, the test results of the emissions on St Saviour’s Hill show that it is potentially a much wider problem. In the right conditions, other areas of the island could be breaching EU legal limits and more people, including children, are likely being exposed to harmful levels of Nitrogen Dioxides. Considering we live on a relatively small and low lying island, exposed to prevailing winds — rather than a built up urbanised city — it’s shameful that such breaches are occurring.

As the Jersey population continues to rise, with new large scale housing developments being put forward for St Helier and currently being built on St Saviour’s Hill, pollution levels are only likely to get worse. We need urgent action to clean up our air and to cut the number of vehicles on the road that are pumping out harmful emissions.

Failure to do so means it will be our children and their health that will continue to pay the greatest price for our inaction.



Nine by Five Media is a new platform to highlight the diverse range of voices and views from the Island of Jersey. We go beyond the facts to analyse, contextualise and reflect on current affairs so we can ultimately help generate positive change.

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Ollie Taylor

Jersey (UK) Evening Post columnist and founder of Nine by Five Media. Always looking for the local angle. Views are all mine and not that of any employer.