Reporter 403, 2 June 1997

The chemistry of clean air

A group from the School of Chemistry, headed by Professor Mike Pilling, will use a mobile unit to study air content in Leeds in June. Black smoke pumped out of diesel engines contains carcinogenic particles which are absorbed through the lungs. The unit will examine carbon monoxide, ozone and nitrogen oxide levels in the urban environment.

Along with other universities such as Bristol, Cambridge and UMIST, Leeds atmospheric scientists are also studying remote areas to work out a baseline of what clean air actually is. Just as natural background radiation exists there is also a natural level of ozone in the air. While ozone in the atmosphere is beneficial in filtering UV rays a build-up in the troposphere – the first few kilometres of the atmosphere that directly affects us – can be harmful.

The Leeds group is concentrating on the Mace Head area north of Galway in Ireland. By building an image of natural air content a computer model will be developed so the effects of rises in gas levels can be modelled.

Information gathered by this collaborative work, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, will be used by the Department of the Environment to help monitor air quality.

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