800 UK roadsides with dangerous air pollution – list shows all towns affected

Poisonous air pollution exceeded legal thresholds on 800 major roadsides in the UK, government data has revealed.

It comes after a landmark court victory blamed toxic air for contributing to the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah who was exposed to illegal levels of air pollution near her home every year of her life.

Levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide, the diesel-driven exhaust chemical, exceeded legal limits in 815 roadside spots across the UK last year.

EU limits, which the UK is legally bound to uphold, require the annual average levels of nitrogen dioxide to stay below 40 micrograms (mcg) per cubic metre. The level recommended by the World Health Organisation to protect people’s health.

The worst spot in the country was found to be Marylebone Flyover near Edgware Road tube station with a reading of 77mcg per cubic metre, followed by Hammersmith Flyover, near St Paul’s Church with a reading of 75.

While the worst-offending areas were busy roads in London – with the capital accounting for more than 75% of the over-polluted roads – the list of sites covers the whole country including cities and towns including Liverpool, Glasgow, Stockport, Cardiff and Bournemouth.

Levels also exceeded legal limits in another 94 areas away from roadsides, all of them in central London, according to the data from Defra’s Pollution Climate Mapping model.

But experts say the data does not provide a complete picture, suggesting the correct number is even higher.

Katie Nield, of environmental law charity ClientEarth, said her analysis found that the measurements covered just three per cent of the UK road network and 25 percent of the major road network.

She said:”What this shows is that there’s a possibility of making this link in a court of law for the many other people who suffer as a result of breathing dirty air.

“Making this link now may seem like a bit less of a leap than it did before this decision,” she said.

Sarah MacFadyen, head of policy at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said the data needed to be more transparent to allow people to make decisions about where they chose to live and travel.

“If you know that a road is particularly dangerous, then there may be steps you can take, like walking a different route or staying inside at heavily polluted times of day.

“None of this is a substitute for having less pollution overall. But it will take time to bring down levels of pollution, so people need to know what the steps are that they can take to keep themselves safe,” she said.

On Wednesday, coroner Philip Barlow said that during Ella’s life there was a “recognised failure to reduce the level of NO2 to within limits set by EU and domestic law which possibly contributed to her death”.

The inquest into Ella’s death heard that her family lived just 80ft from the South Circular, a busy London road that cuts through residential neighbourhoods.

Nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen over the past decade, a shift that Defra attributes to tighter emissions standards, but the UK is still in breach of the law.

A spokeswoman said: “Air pollution monitoring data is published hourly on the UK Air website and [we] provide the Daily Air Quality Index which sets out air pollution levels and provides recommended actions and health advice.

“We also make air pollution information available to a network of charities when air pollution levels are forecast to be elevated, to ensure information reaches the most vulnerable, and our Clean Air Strategy sets out our plans to provide clearer information on air pollution and accessible health advice.

“We are taking decisive action to tackle dangerous emissions through a £3.8 billion plan to clean up transport and tackle NO2 pollution, and through our landmark Environment Bill we are setting ambitious new air quality targets, with a primary focus on reducing public health impacts.”

UK’s worst roads

  1. Marylebone Flyover near Edgware Road tube station: 77mcg per cubic metre
  2. Hammersmith Flyover, near St Paul’s Church: 75mcg
  3. Approach to Limehouse Link Tunnel, Tower Hamlets: 75mcg
  4. Westway in Kensington and Chelsea, east of the Westway roundabout: 72
  5. West Cross Route north of Shepherd’s Bush Tube station: 72

Cities and towns with roads in the top 800
London – 603

Birmingham – 15

Manchester – 13

Glasgow – 12

Leeds – 10

Stoke-on-Trent – 10

Newcastle-upon-Tyne – 8

Sandwell (West Mids) – 6

Gateshead – 6

Cardiff – 6

Sheffield – 6

North Lanarkshire – 5

Havant (Hants) – 4

Nottingham – 4

Bristol – 4

Bolton – 4

Surrey Heath – 4

Oldham – 4

Middlesbrough – 3

Rushmoor (Hants) – 3

South Lanarkshire – 3

Belfast – 3

Guildford (Surrey) – 3

Reading – 3

Kirklees (West Yorks) – 3

Bournemouth – 3

Stockport – 3

North Tyneside – 3

Solihull – 2

Southampton – 2

Basildon – 2

Rotherham – 2

Liverpool – 2

Walsall – 2

Coventry – 2

Edinburgh – 2

Flintshire (North Wales) – 2

Trafford (Greater Manchester) – 2

Wolverhampton – 2

Rhondda Cynon Taf – 2

Renfrewshire – 2

Derby – 2

County Durham – 1

Bolsover (Notts) – 1

Swansea – 1

Tameside (Greater Manchester) – 1

Newport (South Wales) – 1

Sefton (Merseyside) – 1

Portsmouth – 1

Fareham (Hants) – 1

New Forest (Hants) – 1

Neath Port Talbot – 1

Spelthorne (Surrey) – 1

Aberdeen – 1

Crawley – 1

Slough – 1

Southend-on-Sea – 1

Newcastle-under-Lyme (Staffs) – 1

Leicester – 1

Plymouth – 1

Did your region or city meet annual mean NO2 targets?
Greater London No

West Midlands No

Greater Manchester No

West Yorkshire No

Liverpool No

Sheffield No

Nottingham No

Bristol No

Leicester Yes

Portsmouth No

Stoke on Trent No

Bournemouth No

Reading/Wokingham No

Coventry/Bedworth No

Kingston upon Hull Yes

Southampton No

Birkenhead Yes

Southend Urban Area No

Blackpool Yes

Preston Yes


Littlehampton Yes

Glasgow No

Edinburgh No

Cardiff No

Swansea Yes

Belfast No

Tyneside No

Teesside No