The dashboard also lets the public view how levels of air pollution have changed over time and whether they exceed the new WHO guideline threshold levels, above which pollution leads to ill health.
Every year worldwide, exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause seven million premature deaths and result in the loss of millions more healthy years of life. In children, this could include reduced lung growth and function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma. In adults, heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of premature death attributable to outdoor air pollution, and evidence is also emerging of other effects such as diabetes and diseases of the brain and nervous system like Alzheimer’s.
Although outdoor air pollution has been falling in Northern Ireland for most of the last 17 years, many of the population are still exposed to pollution levels well above the WHO recommended thresholds.
The research team, led by Professor Duncan McVicar from Queen’s Management School, found that in the most recent year for which data was available (2016), 87 per cent of the Northern Ireland population lived in areas where PM2.5 (fine-grained particulate matter) pollution exceeded the threshold, and 37 per cent lived in areas where NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) pollution exceeded the threshold.
Dr Neil Rowland, Research Fellow at Queen’s University and Regional Clean Air Champion for Northern Ireland, said:
“Air pollution has become much more widely recognised as a public health issue in recent years. The dashboard makes visible something that seems very abstract – the degree to which our air is polluted – and connects it to impacts on health and wellbeing through the broader research programme.
“Having access to reliable information on air pollution empowers the public and gives decision makers the best possible evidence to design interventions to benefit society.”
Professor Gerry Leavey of Ulster University said:
“In a time when climate change and air pollution are major concerns, this tool has great potential to assist the public in assessing exposure to local levels of air pollution, and for policymakers to use as evidence in designing policy and service interventions to support public health.”
ADRC NI is part of ADR UK (Administrative Data Research UK) is a partnership transforming the way researchers access the UK’s wealth of public sector data, to enable better informed policy decisions that improve people’s lives.
The research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).