Unmasked: the true story of the air you’re breathing

Press release by Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth on 28/06/17:

Eastbourne residents contribute to new report: Unmasked – the true story of the air you’re breathing


Citizen Science investigation reveals 181 MPs face pollution problem as people take to the streets to demand Clean Air Everywhere

A new report – Unmasked: the true story of the air you’re breathing – suggests that dirty air is a problem in far more places than the government has admitted, as Friends of the Earth reveals the initial findings of their citizen science air pollution experiment today (28 June).

  • High NO2 concentrations were found  in 181 Westminster constituencies
  • High NO2 concentrations were found in 133 local authorities, 26 more than government documents highlight
  • The report also identified a shocking 13 NO2 hotspots currently entirely neglected by local and national government. One of those hotspots is in Eastbourne, discovered by Eastbourne Friends of the Earth.


Friends of the Earth’s ground breaking citizen science air pollution experiment involved thousands of people across the UK – including in Eastbourne – testing the quality of the air where they live. The initial results suggest that dirty air is a problem in more places than the government has outlined in its draft Air Quality Plan; including 13 neglected areas which are not currently identified as having a pollution problem by either their local authority or the national government. Eastbourne is one of those neglected areas. The charity found that air pollution is not just in the obvious spots, it’s a hyper-local, nationwide problem covering every region of the UK.

Friends of the Earth has released the initial findings of their citizen science project in the middle of the charity’s clean air week of action, as people take to the streets to demand “Clean Air Everywhere”. Running from 24 June to 3 July, people are creating their own symbolic “Clean Air Zones” across the country to demand that the government puts in place the measures needed to tackle dirty air in its final Air Quality Plan due at the end of July. The government’s draft Air Quality Plan, published during the election campaign in May, was branded “woefully inadequate” by Friends of the Earth.

The environmental charity is calling on the government to fund and mandate Clean Air Zones – areas in which the most polluting vehicles are charged to enter – in all the locations predicted to have illegal levels of air pollution beyond next year; and for Theresa May to provide a safety net for drivers by introducing a comprehensive diesel scrappage scheme funded by a ‘diesel-gate levy’ on manufacturers.

 Oliver Hayes, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said:

“Our citizen scientists have shown that if the government won’t step up to the plate on air quality, ordinary people will. But even so, it’s shocking that these early results suggest the government is underplaying the true extent of pollution in the UK.

“With a new batch of MPs – at least 181 of whom appear to have high levels of pollution in their constituency – and a new Environment Secretary, there can be no excuse for weak action as ministers pull together the final Air Quality Plan over coming weeks.

“These results – and the stories behind them of people suffering poor health because of air pollution – add even more weight to the overwhelming case for quicker, tougher action on dirty air.

“The government has acknowledged that Clean Air Zones are the best way to deal with this public health crisis, which is why they must stop playing politics with our health and urgently introduce them everywhere with illegal levels of air pollution.”

Robert Price, who lives and works in Eastbourne, says:

“As father of 3 children, I was very concerned when I heard Eastbourne was a pollution hotspot in last year’s WHO report. I’m also a sceptic, so I was keen to test this assertion for myself. I contacted Eastbourne Friends of the Earth, and helped setup a number of Clean Air Kits across town. These kits were sent off to an independent third party lab for analysis and verification. The results showed significant levels of NO2 gas pollution in Eastbourne, and potentially illegal levels near St Andrews Primary School. This pollution is invisible, but has been shown to be responsible for an increase in respiratory conditions and an increase in response to allergens. We need to take action to make our air safe.”

Eastbourne resident Miles Berkley states:

” Recent tragic events have underlined the need for public authorities to assess risk and discharge their legal responsibility diligently. Public Health England states 61 people per year die prematurely due to air pollution from air particulates – just one form of air pollution – in the town. My question is: what assessments have been made by East Sussex County Council and what specific steps have they taken in respect of these? Eastbourne Borough Council have announced steps recently that they intend to take, but what is the Director of Public Health for East Sussex County Council doing?”

Andrew Durling, Co-ordinator of Eastbourne Friends of the Earth, says:

“This major new report from Friends of the Earth shows why we need more effective action right now, from both central and local governments, to make our air cleaner and safer, not just in some parts of the UK, but all parts of it, including here in Eastbourne. We all have a right to clean air, which is essential for our health and our quality of life. It’s also essential to relieve pressure on our hard-pressed NHS. Reducing the pollution from road traffic in particular also helps to reduce the carbon emissions that cause rapid climate change”.

“Eastbourne Friends of the Earth will be speaking to Eastbourne Borough Council and to Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd soon to discuss our concerns about the issue of dirty air in Eastbourne. We are also seeking to link up with all those in Eastbourne who are also working for clean air or can contribute to it in some way”


  1. Air pollution monitoring tubes show NO2levels for the period the tubes were in place (usually 2 weeks). We classed ‘high’ NO2 levels as results above 40 μgm-3, which if they were recorded across a whole year, would be higher than the World Health Organisation guidelines – and above the level set for the EU legal limit.
  2. Unmasked: the true story of the air you’re breathinghttps://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/unmasked-story-air-youre-breathing-103872.pdf
  3. The 13 locations with high concentrations of NO2– which are not currently identified as having a pollution problem by their local authority, or the national government – are: Braintree, Castle Point, Darlington, Derbyshire Dales, Eastbourne, Gwynedd, High Peak, Mendip, Oadby and Wigston, Stevenage, Stroud, Swindon and the Vale of Glamorgan.
  4. The 181 Westminster constituencies with high levels of NO2are: https://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/cak-constituencies-exceedances-103871.pdf
  5. Friends of the Earth’s plan for Clean Air Everywhere sets out what should be in the government’s Air Quality Plan:www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/plan-clean-air-everywhere-103274.pdf
  6. Friends of the Earth briefing responding to the content of the government’s Draft Air Quality Plan: https://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/friends-earths-briefing-inform-consultation-responses-103786.pdf
  7. To find a Clean Air Everywhere event near you:https://www.foe.co.uk/clean-air/week-action-clean-air-everywhere
  8. You can order a Clean Air Kit and measure the pollution where you are by visiting:foe.co.uk/clean-air
  9. About Friends of the Earth: For more than 40 years we’ve seen that the wellbeing of people and planet go hand in hand – and it’s been the inspiration for our campaigns. Together with thousands of people like you we’ve secured safer food and water, defended wildlife and natural habitats, championed the move to clean energy and acted to keep our climate stable. Be a Friend of the Earth – see things differently. For further information visitwww.foe.co.uk, follow us at @wwwfoecouk, or like our Facebook page.
  10. The results of the air monitoring done by Eastbourne Friends of the Earth, which contributed to the new report launched today can be found here.



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