MPs measure their own exposure levels

End date: 
Wednesday, 21 May, 2014
The Aim: 

To help members of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to understand how we are exposed to air pollution as we go about our daily lives and provide evidence for the Committee's Air Quality Enquiry update report.


The Participants: 

The participants that took part in this study were five Members of Parliament :

  • Joan Walley, Labour MP for Stoke-On-Trent North and Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee
  • Mike Kane, Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, Manchester
  • Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North
  • Matthew Offord, Conservative MP for Hendon, North West London
  • Alan Whitehead, Labour MP for Southampton Test


The Method: 

The MPs met up in Parliament Square in central London, where they were given a miniature version of the more complex air quality monitoring instruments that measure black carbon from vehicle emissions. These instruments were coupled with a GPS watch which recorded where the MPs were when they were breathing the pollution levels the instruments were recording.

The MPs recorded air pollution levels as they traveled around central London, including a taxi journey from Oxford Circus to City Hall. They then took the instruments back with them to each of their constituencies, where they recorded levels over the following days as they went about their Parliamentary duties. The results were processed and interpreted by King's researchers, before being presented back to the MPs, who used the experience to help inform the Audit Committee's subsequent Air Quality Enquiry.


The Results: 

The MPs found that the most astonishing result was that the highest levels of pollution they were exposed to was during a shared a taxi journey through central London in rush hour traffic. The MPs' monitors recorded figures six times higher than those recorded walking around Parliament Square; this is because the fumes from vehicles in front and behind the taxi entered directly into the cab.

Back in their constituencies, the highest levels of air pollution recorded by the MPs were when they were travelling in a car or taxi. Mr Kane, for instance, recorded high levels of air pollution exposure as he travelled by car into Manchester, in contrast to the relatively low exposure he experienced when doing the same journey by train later the same day. Mr Kane also took a walk through the city where he was exposed to nearly three times more pollution on a busy road compared to his walk alongside the nearby canal.


The Outcome: 

This study allowed the participant MPs to gain a greater understanding of the levels of air pollution surrounding them and the ways to reduce their own personal exposure, such as choosing to travel by train rather than in motor vehicles and choosing to walk on back streets rather than busy roads. This increased awareness informed their subsequent enquiry report. The study was reported in the national and international press, further raising awareness and understanding of the issue. Furthermore, the use of 'citizen science' in this way was praised by the Mayor of London and support was given by the Government in its official response to the EAC's enquiry report.


Contact Details: 

Project Coordinator: Dr Ben Barratt