Because of increasing recognition of its predominant significance for human health and because of its inclusion in the National Air Quality Strategy (NAQS) standards, airborne particulate matter (PM10) has become an issue of great importance to Local Authorities in the UK.
While healthy individuals are unlikely to experience acute effects at typical PM10 levels (although asthma attacks are increased); there is good evidence of associations with advanced mortality, chronic illness and discomfort for sensitive groups. It is likely that the inhalation of airborne particles < 10 microns diameter from any origin can worsen heart and breathing problems in sensitive groups.
There are many towns and villages throughout Cornwall where slow-moving traffic, particularly during the summer months, could produce health-damaging levels of PM10. Under still conditions (high pressure) in a road system where narrow streets exacerbate pollutant build-up (the “canyon” effect) the potential exists for pollutants to reach high concentrations. If this scenario is taken together with the already high levels of ground level ozone in Cornwall the significant levels of atmospheric particulate matter present provide cause for concern.
Under NAQS guidelines extensive monitoring of air pollution is generally necessary to examine the links between ambient air pollution and traffic flow (and other sources). In urban areas state-of-the-art monitoring stations provide data for use in sophisticated computer modelling programs. These programs provide an interpretative and predictive picture of air pollution in an area. In Cornwall resources are very limited but the scale of the problem is different. Nevertheless – as sketched out above – there is the potential for air pollution problems to arise.
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