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In 2018, it was reported that the UK’s first air-filtering bus had taken to the streets of Southampton, paving the way for bigger steps to reduce urban air pollution in our towns and cities.

The Bluestar bus, which is operated by the Go-Ahead Group, was designed to cleanse the air around it as it travels, using a specially designed filter that removes ultrafine particles from the air. it was initially tested on a 3 month initial pilot, weighing the filter at the start and end of the time period to gauge how many polluting particles had been trapped and thus removed from the city air. Given that WHO warned the City Council in 2018 that the streets were at their absolute pollution limit, this pilot could not come quickly enough!

Now we are in 2023, how has this progressed in the last 5 years? The Bluestar buses are now widespread across Southampton, with services available across the city as well as dedicated services for schools and colleges in the area. This growth came on the heels of the success of the initial 100 day pilot, which showed that the first bus covered 9000 miles in those 100 days, cleaning 3.2 million cubic metres of air. 65g of particulate matter (PM10) was extracted from the filter.

Further reading: https://www.bluestarbus.co.uk/air-filtering-bus-trial-success

On a wider scale, it is estimated that air pollution causes up to 40,000 premature deaths per year in the UK alone, let alone in bigger countries. If we have 37.9 million vehicles licensed for use on our roads, how much worse will air pollution be in places like America, where there were 263.6 million registered vehicles in 2015, let alone now. Technology such as that used on the Go-Ahead bus, if proven successful, will carve a path into reducing air pollution, but we as the public are also being asked to “do our bit”, as it were. Readers will no doubt be well aware of the push to move from diesel to petrol, or even better, to electric cars, with subsequent penalties for those still using older, higher polluting vehicles.  Whatever your thoughts on this are, there’s no doubt that we’ll all eventually move on to vehicles that create less impact on both human health and the environment.

How Does Air Pollution Impact Health?

The pollutants released from vehicle fumes can have a number of effects on health, including:

  • Respiratory illnesses and irritants causing coughing and infections
  • Irritation to the eyes, nose and throat
  • Stress on respiratory and cardiovascular systems, including arrythmia, stress on the heart and nonfatal heart attacks
  • Loss of lung capacity and function, leading to shortness of breath and chest tightness
  • There have been links with cancer, emphysema, bronchitis and asthma brought on due to air pollution

Why Does Air Pollution Impact Health?

There are a number of ways the pollutants in the air work to impact health, depending on which types of pollutants are primarily present at any given time.

Ground-level Ozone

Ground-level Ozone is a general term that encompasses VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and NOx (oxides of nitrogen). When these react with the UV rays from the sun, they cause a strong irritant in the air that we breathe, which can in turn lead to respiratory complaints and forcing the body to work harder to provide oxygen and expel the irritant.

Ground-level Ozone is most commonly produced by vehicular traffic such as cars, buses, construction equipment and lorries. In this way, it is most prevalent

Particulate Matter (PM)

This type of pollutant is formed from a range of different materials that can all be found in our everyday environment, including tyre rubber, smoke, soot, nitrates, sulphates and even dust. Like Ground-level Ozone, it can pervade the body and get deep into your system and bloodstream. Small particles are worse, as they travel easier.

Symptoms caused from PM include lung problems, heart problems, asthma, arrythmia and heart and lung disease.

Southampton’s air quality in 2023

Since it was reported in 2018 that the city streets were badly polluted, steps have been taken by Southampton City Council to improve air quality. These are ongoing to 2025, and include ongoing monitoring of key pollutants, the adoption of a Green City Charter and supporting businesses and organisations in reducing their emissions to improve air quality.

Further reading