10 steps to set up an air quality programme

If you are concerned about air quality in you area, here is a 10 step process which might be helpful.

  1. Research your local area’s air quality information

2. Decide the objectives of your work

What you want to achieve will determine the approach you need to take. For example, our primary concern in Dorking is to raise our local residents awareness about air quality, because we believe that this will lead to their engagement and acceptance of climate change as an existential threat. Other groups may want to challenge their local authority on areas of concern. Obviously these are not mutually exclusive but these choices will particularly determine the monitoring method you select in Step 4.

So specific objectives might include

  1. Addressing local hotspots with the local authority (LA)
  2. Filling gaps in air quality information, either by your work or by lobbying the LA
  3. Raising awareness and engagement of residents so they become involved in action

3. Set up a team to carry out your programme

A team approach has many benefits particularly creativity and avoiding the vulnerability of over dependence on one or two individuals. In addition to all team members motivation, it is helpful to have skills in the team such as data analysis, an ability to find useful air quality resources and to keep up to date with air quality reports in the media.

4. Select the methods which you will use to monitor air quality

As our primary objective is to engage with residents on air quality, we chose to use Breezometer, which has a mobile phone app. It is free and can measure air pollution levels in any location, irrespective of your location. We hope that residents will begin to use the app.No doubt there are other similar free apps which are also readily accessible.

5. Using the air quality monitor

Using Breezometer, we had to decide which pollutants to measure. We chose to record all six pollutants listed – ozone, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, PM10 and PM 2.5 – and omitted the overall index, which often gave counter intuitive results.

Whilst we accepted that there was a trade off between ease of use and accuracy, we wanted to understand how accurate Breezometer was. This is ongoing research. If you want to know more, please contact us. We use the data to highlight potential local hotspots and to fill the gaps where local authority data is limited or non existent.

6. Decide the locations you will monitor to achieve your objectives

Based on the local authority report, our own sense of local hotspots and locations of particular interest – schools, motorway junction, remote countryside, drilling site- we chose up to 15 locations to monitor

7. Carry out the monitoring programme

To catch rush hour times, we took readings at 9am, 1300 and 1800 for a week, including weekends. It takes about 10 minutes to monitor and record 3 locations. Setting an alarm on your phone minimises blank data.

8. Analyse the results using e.g. Excel

In a week, we took nearly 2000 readings . It is essential to record and analyse the data using a spreadsheet. This means that, when you repeat the exercise to check how AQ is changing, it is easy to compare periods.

We decided to focus on three pollutants – nitrogen dioxide and the two particulates, but retain the data on the other pollutants for potential later use

9. Communicate the results of your investigation

There are four target groups

  • the media ( who have published our results on their front page on our first two reports ( see Every Breath We Take).
  • our local XR group so they can take outreach opportunities and direct action
  • The local authority to discuss what they are doing as a result of our work
  • Local resident groups who are interested in air pollution

10. Take action on your results

Review, replan, act and share your learning and progress with other XR groups

Every Breath we Take

WHY IS AIR QUALITY IMPORTANT?
Air pollution is one of the largest environmental risks to public health in the UK and contributes to shortening and reducing the quality of life for thousands. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is widely understood to be the pollutant that is the most damaging to health and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has been identified by The European Environment Agency as the cause of 11,940 premature deaths in 2013 in the UK.


Air quality and climate change are intimately connected, with many common causes. Making major improvements to air quality will make an important contribution to reducing the threat of climate change.

The onset of Covid-19 has raised the issue of air pollution to new heights with national and international studies to investigate the connection between nitrogen dioxide, PM2.5 and the transmission of coronavirus and the extent to which the recovery of Covid –19 patients is adversely affected by air pollution.

The lockdown implemented as a consequence of Covid-19 presented a unique opportunity to measure air quality in favourable circumstances. Further programmes of measurement will establish the extent to which pollutants are increasing and in which local areas.