On Wednesday 5th June, think about air pollution: vehicle emissions contain a number of different toxic gases such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) (in spite of catalytic converters), as well as the tiny particulates (PM2.5) which can also enter the little air sacs in the lungs.

Toxic Air

The burning of fuel laid down
thousands of millennia ago…

invasive molecules, with portent,
crossing the lung-blood barrier

creating asthma, an early demise,
cancer gaining a hold on innocence.

Tunbridge Wells Friends of the Earth is calling on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to include a clear commitment to improving air quality in its forthcoming Local Plan.

 ‘Kent Air’ website includes only 19 automatic air quality monitoring sites for the whole county, one of which is on the A26 near Southborough[1]. The website has what first appears to be a helpful range of four colour coded bands, showing pollution levels from ‘low’ to ‘very high’ and the actual monitoring figures are publicly available. But the health effects described only relate to short-term effects and do not detail any of the very real long-term effects of air pollution.

In addition, TWBC has several diffusion tube monitoring sites. Two of these within the existing Air Quality Management Area (one near Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar School and one near the Pantiles/London Rd) have exceeded the annual mean levels, although, when adjusted for distance they are just under. Regardless, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reveals: “New studies have associated short- and long-term exposure to NO2 with mortality, hospital admissions, and respiratory symptoms at concentrations at or below the current EU limit values…”[2]

Therefore, we call for pollution to be driven down much further below current thresholds.

Another ‘higher risk area’ might be Pembury Road, which takes a lot of the traffic, and is frequently at gridlock. In its 2018 Air Quality Annual Status Report[3], TWBC admits that “air pollution particularly affects the most vulnerable in society: children and older people, and those with heart and lung conditions,” and that “Royal Tunbridge Wells suffers from congestion, particularly on the approach roads to the town centre.” The main source of air pollution in our borough is transport, so it is a real concern that many schools and houses for the elderly are situated close to these main roads.

Steve Walter, Tunbridge Wells resident and member of Friends of the Earth comments:

“We need clear indications of the danger to people’s health caused by traffic fumes. Air pollution is a serious issue affecting our community and levels in parts ofTunbridge Wells are not safe. More action is needed to address this issue – we need better and more affordable public transport as well as safer cycling and walking facilities.”

“It’s worrying that the council hasn’t mentioned how they are going to tackle air quality in detail in the new Local Plan. It’s a real shame, because tackling air pollution will also help cut emissions causing climate breakdown.”

[1]At this St John’s Rd site, six of the monthly average readings in 2018 exceeded the maximum 40μg/m3 level, although the annual mean sits just below the threshold. See: Kent Air

[2]So, even if levels are just about within requirements for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), the WHOhave found negative health effects below the ‘40 level’ – meaning that the air cannot be considered ‘safe’ or clean! Up to 36,000 premature deathsare linked to a mixture of air pollution in the UK every year. Overall, almost 1 in 10 lung cancercases in the UK are caused by exposure to outdoor air pollution.


See also Tunbridge Wells Air Quality Pages

Which include the Annual Status Reports (ASR) as required by the government under the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) regime (from the link on the right under ANNUAL REPORTS).

World Environment Day 2019 – Air Pollution in Tunbridge Wells