Airports will struggle to meet proposed limits on nitrogen dioxide pollution after a new study into its presence at over 20 UK airports showed toxic levels at two-thirds of sites monitored.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) looks set to become the next aircraft emission targeted by environmentalists, not least since it is a gas that affects asthma sufferers. Asthma has become a major issue in the USA and other countries in recent years as childhood cases have more than doubled in the past twenty years. The European Union has published NO2 limits, set to enter into force in 2010, but the first comprehensive report into NO2 levels at airports shows that meeting the targets will be difficult due to the growth in air transport.

The UK Chartered Society of Physiotherapy today published its report into NO2 levels at 23 UK airports based on mean average levels recorded in 2003. The study showed that 16 the airports recorded levels exceeding the future EU limits. 
The new rules state NO2 levels should be below 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air (µg/m3). Based on 2003 annual mean levels, many UK airports fail to meet these limits, with Newcastle, Birmingham, London Heathrow and London Gatwick airports averaging 60-70µg/m3, or around 75% higher than the guidelines. Readings at other major UK airports were over half higher than the EU target.

The findings of the study are likely to move NO2 into the list of emissions aircraft manufacturers and aero engine makers will be tasked with reducing. However, ground transport is still the prime contributor and the figures were taken at road sides. Chartered Society of Physiotherapy chair, Prof Grahame Pope, says: "While there’s no doubt that aircraft contribute to the NO2 problem, it should be noted that cars, buses and taxis ferrying passengers to and from these sites are dominant sources of pollution.”

NO2 is a noxious gas that irritates the airways of the lungs and causes breathing difficulties and respiratory experts say continued exposure to the gas could affect people with existing lung conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.


NO2 (µg/m3)

Newcastle 60-70
Birmingham   60-70
London Heathrow 60-70
London Gatwick   60-70
Manchester   50-60
Liverpool   50-60
Blackpool 50-60
Sheffield City   50-60
Humberside   50-60
London City   50-60
Southampton   50-60
Exeter   50-60
Gloucestershire   50-60
Teesside   40-50
Norwich   40-50
Plymouth City   40-50
Leeds Bradford   30-40
London Luton   30-40
Cambridge   30-40
Ipswich  30-40
London Biggin Hill 30-40
Shoreham Brighton City  30-40
Isle of Wight Sandown  20-30
 Source: UK Chartered Society of Physiotherapy


Source: Flight International