London boroughs show lowest air pollution removal by vegetation

Six inner-London boroughs come bottom in data published yesterday (30 July) by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing the amount of air pollution removed by trees and other vegetation in each UK region.

Image: Elliott Brown (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image: Elliott Brown (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The London Borough of Lambeth came bottom of the table, with vegetation removing an estimated 5kg of pollutants per hectare, followed by Tower Hamlets, Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham, Hackney and Newham.

And the other end of the scale, vegetation in East Kent removed 77kg/ha, with the other highest-ranking regions also in the rural south-east of England.

The ONS also calculated the "avoided health damage costs from pollution removal per resident" for each region. Here, leafy Berkshire came out top with £20.44 per resident, while the largely treeless Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles of Scotland showed values of below £4 per resident.

Most (88%) of this estimated value arises from the removal of PM2.5, or fine particulate matter of diameter less than 2.5µm - even though this accounts for less than 2% of the total volume of pollution removed from the atmosphere.

Most atmospheric PM2.5 is emitted during the combustion of solid and liquid fuels, and it tends to stay in the air longer than heavier particles. It can penetrate deep into the lungs, triggering chronic disease such as asthma, heart disease, bronchitis, and other respiratory problems.

The data is based on a methodology developed for the ONS last year by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

This estimated that a total of 1.4 million tonnes of air pollutants were removed nationally by woodlands, plants, grasslands and other vegetation in 2015, saving the UK around £1 billion in avoided health damage costs.

"Trees in particular provide a wide range of services and account for most of the volume of air pollutants absorbed by natural vegetation in the UK," the ONS said.

"Even though vegetation will not solve the whole issue of air quality in the UK, and in some cases vegetation can have adverse effects on air quality, the service of air pollution absorption by vegetation is nevertheless an important one."

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