Legal but lethal: Lessons from NO2 related mortality in a city compliant with EU limit value

Rick Lyons*, Ruth Doherty, David Reay, Simon Shackley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Research has indicated that the legal maximum annual-average concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) for safe long-term exposure in the European Union and United Kingdom (40 μg/m3) may not offer adequate protection and that a lower value may be needed. At the same time concerns have been raised in the UK about government methods to assess NO2 for the purposes of compliance with the legal limit. It is suggested that the national assessment underestimates levels of the pollutant and that local authority assessments, which in several cases find higher NO2 levels, are a more accurate reflection of pollution. This research used Brighton and Hove – which is deemed compliant with NO2 limits by the national assessment – as a case study to inform these debates. Using local authority pollution data, the research found that: up to 15.9% (95% CI 9.4%–21.9%) of mortality in the examined area, which approximately corresponds to central Brighton, can be attributed to long-term exposure to 2016 levels of NO2; up to 13.9% (95% CI 8.2%−19.2%) of mortality in this area can be attributed to legal concentrations of the annual-average limit; and up to 3% of mortality in the area examined can be attributed to the portion of 2016 concentrations above the 40 μgNO2/m3 annual average limit. These results suggest the current EU and UK limit value for long-term exposure to NO2 may not be adequate to protect public health. The findings also indicate the UK government assessment does not identify all the local NO2 hotspots contributing to premature deaths.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-50
JournalAtmospheric Pollution Research
Issue number6
Early online date24 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Air quality assessment
  • Air quality policy
  • Health burden
  • Mortality
  • NO


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