Air Clean Up

  • 94% of Britain Affected by Road Pollution, According to Study

94% of Britain Affected by Road Pollution, According to Study

May 03 2021

Despite covering less than 1% of Great Britain’s landmass, roadways across the country create pollution that affects almost every single part of the island. Those are the findings of a new study from the University of Exeter, which also revealed that over half of all land is within 216m of a road, thus explaining the pervasiveness of the pollution.

The detrimental impact of air pollution caused by road traffic on human health is well-documented, but the adverse effects of different kinds of contamination on other species is still an area of research requiring further investigation. This study places even greater urgency on the issue, outlining in stark terms how road pollution does not just affect those living in urban environments or near major thoroughfares.

Pervasive pollution

According to the study, a mere 6% of the entire landmass of Great Britain escapes all kinds of road-related pollution, with all of it found at high altitudes. To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers started by examining detailed maps of the country. They found that a quarter of land was less than 79m from a road, half was within 216m and three-quarters were 527m away from one.

They then consulted the latest available data on tailpipe emissions, metal concentrations, light pollution and noise pollution and found that 94% of the country suffered from at least background levels of the contamination. For clarity, background levels were defined as 0.1% of the particle and chemical pollution found on the road themselves and 0.001% of the light and noise pollution found in-situ.

Not just exhaust fumes

While the air pollution caused by tailpipe emissions attracts the majority of media attention and government regulation, there are many other forms of pollution caused by roads, as well. The aforementioned light and noise pollution can cause confusion among the animal kingdom, upsetting the natural breeding, feeding and migratory patterns of a wide range of wildlife.

Meanwhile, the rubber tread on tyres is ground down into potentially dangerous microplastics through wear and tear caused by friction, which can then permeate the environment and pose a myriad of potential problems. And that’s even before other contaminants – such as de-icing salt and verge herbicide use – are taken into account.

A grim outlook

Although the study in question concerned itself only with road pollution in Great Britain, the situation is likely to be similar in densely populated regions of the world everywhere. At the present time, there are approximately 64 million kilometres of road on the planet’s surface, which is enough to travel its circumference an incredible 1,600 times.

The problem isn’t about to go away any time soon, either. In the UK alone, the government have announced a £26 billion expansion of the country’s roads, while the global road network is projected to increase 65% by 2050. That means that it’s possible that there will soon be nowhere on Earth you can escape the contamination caused by tarmac and combustion engines.


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