helen-louise (baratron) wrote,
helen-louise
baratron

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Guy Fawkes and air pollution.

It is officially the week with the crappest air quality in the UK. This is something that I, of all people, know only too well. In 2003 I wrote a master's thesis on the statistics of air quality, in which I analysed the hourly air quality reports from seven sites in the DEFRA air quality automated monitoring network over as many years as data was available. I looked at PM10 and ozone from all seven sites, and PM2.5 from the two sites where it was available. PM10 is primary pollution produced directly from combustion, specifically particles smaller than 10 micrometres; and ground-level ozone is secondary pollution, produced by photochemical reactions on primary pollutants in sunlight.

Today is Guy Fawkes' night, which commemorates the Gunpowder Plot. Depending on how you look at it, we are celebrating either the salvation of the British monarch from being blown up, or the plotters' valiant attempt to destroy the Houses of Parliament. I suspect which depends on your personal opinion of the monarchy and our British Parliamentary system. We celebrate by lighting bonfires and exploding fireworks. The celebrations generally last from the Saturday before Guy Fawkes' to the Saturday after - and this year, Diwali falls within this time, causing even more fireworks to be set off.

The thing about fireworks, and especially bonfires, is that neither of them are particularly good for air quality. Great quantities of PM10 and sulphur dioxide are produced by bonfires, as well as other noxious pollutants depending on what people choose to burn. (Plastics and rubber should never be burned on a bonfire.) The average urban level of PM10 goes up from 50 micrograms per metre cubed to well over 100, and may spike as high as 600. 100 micrograms per metre cubed is the warning level for asthmatics and other sufferers of respiratory diseases, greatly increasing the risk of asthma attack and hospitalisation. This increase lasts all week, and the weather becomes terrible as a result. PM10 are cloud condensation nuclei, which cause water vapour in the air to form as droplets. As a result, we get lots of mist and fog at ground level, and a lot more rain. Sulphur dioxide has an albedo effect that leads to cooling, and the temperature drops along with all the fog. It is unlikely that we'll see much sun all week.

I hate this week. I have to be careful about opening windows or going outside. I have to take far more asthma and allergy meds than usual just to function. The cooler temperatures and damp weather play havoc with my joints, and the lack of sunlight makes me want to crawl into a hole and die. The fireworks look pretty, but hardly compensate for all the rest of it.
Tags: allergies suck, hippyism, sad, science, spoon management
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