Air Quality Monitoring

How Energy from Waste Works Key Facts Air Quality Monitoring & Emissions Visitor Centre Community Liaison FAQs



Generally air quality in the UK is good and has improved significantly over recent decades thanks to efforts to reduce pollution caused by the industrial and domestic use of fossil fuels. Transport is now one of the biggest contributors to pollution.

Local authorities across the country have to monitor pollution levels and measure them against limits, known as Air Quality Standards (AQS). These standards are set at both an EU and UK level and have been developed with scientists and health professionals to make sure human health, vegetation and ecosystems are protected. Pollution levels naturally go in peaks and troughs, depending on factors such as emissions of pollutants and the local weather. In winter, because people have their heating on, use their cars more and are more likely to have garden bonfires, pollution is often higher than in summer. If air quality in an area is consistently poor councils must take action to improve it.

In Suffolk, this work is carried out by the district and borough councils. Here you can see what Mid Suffolk District Council is doing about air quality in their area, which includes the Great Blakenham site.

Measuring air quality

Air pollution is measured on a scale of 1-10, grouped into four bands, which are linked to the UK and EU standards.

  Banding Description
1-3 Low Not likely to effect anyone
4-6 Moderate Mild effects may be noticed by sensitive individuals , particularly those with breathing difficulties
7-9 High Sensitive people may notice significant effects and may benefit from spending less time outdoors. Asthmatics may need to use their inhaler.
10 Very High Effects for sensitive people may worsen and they should avoid strenuous physical activity.

The main pollutants measured are:

  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)
  • Fine particulate matter, which can’t be seen by the naked eye. This is measured according to size - up to 10 microns (PM10s) and up to 2.5 microns (PM2.5) – as a comparison the average width of a human hair is 100 microns.

High levels of these pollutants have an effect on those with health problems, particularly for those with breathing difficulties, such as asthma. They may also make infections more likely in vulnerable people and they can damage the environment.

That is why so much effort goes into monitoring air quality and keeping pollution levels to a minimum.

For more information:


Incineration and air quality

Old-style incinerators, like many out-of-date industrial processes, were major polluters.

However, the introduction of the EU Waste Incineration Directive and environmental permit regulations led to an improvement in technology and the shutting down of many old incinerators.

Modern energy-from-waste facilities produce such low levels of pollution the Health Protection Agency states that they do not contribute significantly to local levels of pollution and do not have a detectable impact on human health.

The waste is burnt at high temperatures (850 degrees centigrade) so toxic organic pollutants are effectively destroyed. A rigorous cleaning process removes many of the other pollutants.

What comes out of the chimney is therefore not pollution-laden smoke, as some imagine, but harmless steam, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen, with tiny amounts of pollutants which have not been captured by the cleaning process.

These trace components will be well below the strict limits imposed by the Environment Agency and the height of the chimney will mean they are widely dispersed into the atmosphere, so are highly unlikely to have any adverse effects on people living nearby or further afield.

Monitors at the base of the chimney continuously check emission levels and if they start to rise, adjustments are made to the cleaning process. If, in the unlikely event they continue to rise, or if the monitoring equipment fails, the facility will automatically shut down.

A report on the impact of incinerator emissions on health can be found here.

Air quality around the Great Blakenham site

Studies have shown that air quality around the site is currently good and has remained so now that the site is open. The monitoring information from the chimney is displayed both in the visitor centre and on the Suffolk EfW website.

 Air quality monitoring results

In July 2010, a monitoring station was set up in St Peter’s Close, Claydon (in the direction of the prevailing wind) to measure levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and small particles, which can’t be seen by the naked eye (PM10s).

This real-time analyser provides an accurate picture of changing pollution levels – both in the short-term and over a year average.

It has provided a record of air quality before, during and for a period after construction of the energy-from-waste facility.

The information is independently checked by AMEC, who are air quality specialists.

January - March 2013

April - June 2013 

July - September 2013

October - December 2013

January - March 2014

April - June 2014

July - September 2014

October - December 2014

January - March 2015

April - June 2015

July - September 2015

October - December 2015

January - March 2016

April - June 2016

July - September 2016

October - December 2016

January - March 2017

April - July 2017