As high levels of air pollution are reported across the UK, NPL's role is to make sure that the measurements of pollutant concentrations are as reliable as possible, so that the right warnings can be given and the most appropriate actions taken.
Cars are major sources of air pollution in urban areas (image courtesy of iStockphoto)
The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) manages much of the infrastructure in place to monitor air pollution around the UK, which helps to provide public health information, monitor compliance with regulations and improve air quality modelling and research.
The high levels of air pollution currently being reported are caused by a mix of emissions from the UK and other countries in Europe, combining with a dust cloud from the Sahara Desert and low winds, so that any pollution only disperses slowly. The levels recorded are high enough for the government to issue a warning to people with certain health conditions such as asthma. In fact, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has a 10-point scale for measuring air quality, and on Tuesday 1 April, the levels hit the maximum of 10 in some places.
NPL manages a series of networks around the UK which measure air pollution, and regularly checks and calibrates measurement equipment in the field, including at over 100 sites in London. NPL also ensures that the measurements are traceable to national standards, so that the results they give can be relied upon to make important decisions, which may affect public health or the environment.
Heather Powell, Group Leader of NPL's Environmental Measurement Group, said:
"NPL's role is to provide accurate and reliable measurements so that the government has the best possible information to act on regarding potentially dangerous levels of air pollution. We manage networks of air quality monitoring stations across the UK and also carry out air quality surveys on particular areas where there is heavy traffic pollution or industrial emissions."
Defra, the Environment Agency and the National Environment Research Council (NERC), as well as Local Authorities and Developed administrations, entrust NPL to lead air quality monitoring networks and provide traceable measurements for use in climate change models.
Much of the underpinning environmental measurement research at NPL aimed at developing accurate methods for the measurement of air quality is funded through the National Measurement System (NMS), by the National Measurement Office (NMO), an executive agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The NMS helps to advance measurement science, standards and technology to enhance innovation and industry in the UK.