Intern Student Birmingham Air Quality Report

Footsteps – UK Clean Air Day – Birmingham Air Quality and Health Report webinar

To mark UK Clean Air Day 2020, Footsteps held a successful webinar to launch its Birmingham air quality and health issues survey report as one of three Clean Air Day events in Birmingham.

The webinar was part of Footsteps activities to bring Birmingham communities together around climate and environmental issues, working with younger people whenever possible.  

Sixth form medical sciences student, Dylan Mustafa, presented the survey findings and conclusions which were then discussed with a panel of specialists:   Francis Pope, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Birmingham University; Dr Ewan Hamnett, retired GP, Peter Edwards, Birmingham’s Principal Clean Air Zone Officer; and Kamran Shezad, BAHU Trust, Balsall Heath.

We began by being reminded that every year, air pollution causes up to 36,000 deaths in the UK.  The World Health Organisation and the UK Government recognise that air pollution is the largest environmental health risk we face today. Poor air quality causes heart and lung diseases, is linked to low birth weight and children’s lung development and may even contribute to mental health issues. 

Footsteps’ Birmingham air quality and health survey investigated citizens’ experiences of the cleaner air window created by the Covid-19 lockdown in early 2020.  The survey was undertaken by Dylan Mustafa, as a summer holiday volunteering project.  Dylan commented afterwards: ‘the project has allowed me to overcome challenges and develop accountability, communication, co-operation skills, all of which are required qualities for any half-decent doctor.’

Key points that emerged from the report and webinar included:

  • Inequalities lie at the centre of Birmingham citizens’ experiences of air quality.
  • Survey respondents in south west Birmingham experienced air quality as a road vehicle related issue, whereas for Balsall Heath and other inner-city residents it involved inhalers, breathing issues and higher direct experience of Covid-19 infections. 
  • The air quality improvement during lockdown, and subsequent deterioration, was noticed by survey respondents, but there was no evidence that the window of improved air quality has, in itself, lead to wide scale behaviour changes either in south west Birmingham or the inner-city areas.
  • Tackling Birmingham’s fundamental air quality issues involves changing transport systems, embracing and supporting electric vehicles, and large-scale infrastructure investment. 
  • ‘Cars are king’ attitudes need to be challenged not just as a cause of air pollution but also of the congestion, social dislocation, speeding traffic dangers, pavement parking, noise issues they create
  • Councillors making difficult choices and attacked by car lobbies need our support
  • At the local level, finding community led ways of eliminating the ‘school run’ are important

The webinar ended with a lively discussion between panel members and participants using questions submitted through the ‘chat box’ that over-ran our formal end-time. 

Overall, the webinar demonstrated that faith communities have a role in bringing groups and communities together in Birmingham by cultivating the values of compassion, community, and care for the vulnerable needed to tackle the difficult challenges involved.  These values form the basis of the Declaration made at the UN Faith for Nature: Multi-Faith Action conference to which Kamran was a signatory earlier the same day.

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