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Air pollution in parts of Dartford worse than Paris, Madrid and Rome amid calls for more effective monitoring sites

You'll take a breath approximately 20,000 times a day but just how clean the air you take in is will depend on where you live.

Air pollution in parts of Dartford is reported to be worse than Paris, Madrid, and Rome, according to research conducted by the author of a new science book examining the threat to health posed by toxic fumes.

Air pollution is putting lives at risk in Kent.
Air pollution is putting lives at risk in Kent.

"I've spent three years researching world air pollution and it shocks me to hear that the air in Dartford is so bad," says Chris Woodford, the author of "Breathless" a new book which seeks to examine "why air pollution matters" and "how it affects you".

"The levels of fine particulates, technically called PM2.5s, here are far worse than in comparable western European cities like Paris, Madrid, and Rome," he claimed.

Some of the readings recorded above the legal limit – set at 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air – were similar to parts of eastern Europe such as Warsaw, Bucharest, and Moscow, the education author added.

Last year researchers discovered a square kilometre on the approach to the Dartford Tunnel near Bean produced the worst air quality in 2018 – the most recent year for which national data is available across England, Scotland and Wales.

Dirty air in some parts of town are said to be equivalent to smoking 144 cigarettes a year.

Air pollution levels as of research taken February 2020
Air pollution levels as of research taken February 2020

PM2.5 dust is reported to be particularly dangerous to public health as it can accumulate deep in the lungs and penetrate into other organs and the bloodstream.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that reducing PM2.5 to its own guideline level would improve people's life expectancy by anything from nine months to two years.

Mandy Cook, teacher and founder of Dartford Clean Air, and Dartford Cllr Laura Edie have set up a joint petition calling on Dartford council to monitor air quality more effectively.

"We believe that it is vital that we accurately measure the current levels in order to take action and protect lives," said Mandy.

"Air pollution can, and does, kill. Many of our friends and family in Dartford suffer with asthma, COPD, respiratory illnesses, heart and lung disease and this is just the tip of the iceberg."

The issue is particularly pertinent for the mum-of-four whose newborn baby was left on life support by a severe respiratory infection nearly two years ago.

Henry Cook was placed on life support after a severe respiratory infection
Henry Cook was placed on life support after a severe respiratory infection

Son Henry, two, has now fully recovered and recently took to the streets with mum Mandy as part of a local campaign to fight for air quality improvements in Dartford.

Mandy added: "My son was on life support with a machine helping him to breathe at six weeks old. Thankfully he has made a full recovery... but my children are still breathing this deadly air.

"Research shows that children are especially vulnerable as their bodies are still developing.

"Following a respiratory pandemic when many people will already be suffering damage to their heart and lungs it is absolutely critical that we are monitoring PM2.5 accurately. We must then take appropriate action."

Dartford council is under a legal duty to report air quality breaches and has set up Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) at four of the known hotspots.

These are located at the approach to the Dartford Crossing, Dartford town centre, London Road, and the Bean Interchange.

Henry Cook has recovered and joined the campaign
Henry Cook has recovered and joined the campaign

The latest air quality annual status report was considered by the council last year where an assessment of the latest data from roadside monitoring sites painted an overall cleaner image of the borough.

Following this, officers concluded the authority may be in a position to consider scrapping some of its monitoring sites.

However, the council does not currently monitor particles smaller than PM10 and does not have equipment capable of assessing PM2.5.

When quizzed on this aspect the authority responded saying this would require "quite an expensive retrofit" to convert.

Unfortunately, owing to the pandemic, work to review the existing sites has not progressed as quickly as was initially intended. The council has not responded to a request for an update on progress.

Cllr Edie has been discussing the ongoing problem with affected Dartford residents.

Dartford Clean Air campaigners Mandy Cook, left and Cllr Laura Edie, right
Dartford Clean Air campaigners Mandy Cook, left and Cllr Laura Edie, right

She said: "A resident whose house directly overlooks the A282 says the pollution levels are so high she can physically taste the pollution when lorries come to a stand-still in heavy traffic.

"Residents suffer from an increase in ill health along this road, with many long term developing heart and lung conditions.

"It's vital that the air quality is effectively measured, so that we will be able to build up a more accurate picture of the situation and work out ways to tackle this."

Earlier this year a coroner ruled that air pollution from traffic was a cause of the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah from Lewisham, London, who lived near the South Circular Road.

Following the hearing, a prevention of future deaths report was published last week which called for maximum levels of PMs to be legally brought into line with WHO levels.

Kent County Council elections are taking place on Thursday, May 6.

Standing for election in Dartford North East division is Laura Edie (Green Party), Kelly Grehan (Labour Party), Barry Taylor (Reform UK) and Peter Whapshottt (Conservative and Unionist Party).

"Breathless: Why Air Pollution Matters – and How it Affects You" is out now.

Read more: All the latest news from Dartford

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