Urban Health Profile

Globally, different nations have witnessed rural to urban migration. 52% of the world’s population is believed to reside in cities and the number will grow in the next decade (Lamere, 2013). These populations face great risks for diseases, disabilities and premature deaths. With urbanization, the population will grow resulting in an increase in environmental, social and health problems. Woolwich is on the course of rebuilding itself (Saint & Guillery, 2012) after experiencing devastating losses and a bleak future in the early 1800s. Woolwich is a ward within the Royal borough of Greenwich. According to the 2001 Census, the town is composed of a population of 62,448 people with an average age of 31. 12.9% are retired while 6.5% are unemployed. Of the total population 13.34% are migrants (Bealondoner.com)

It is a former military site of the Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Artillery Barracks. It is bordered by river Thames in the North, and connected to Docklands Light Railway (appendix 2). Regeneration schemes have been set up around Woolwich in the construction, transport, housing and manufacturing sectors. The Royal Arsenal site and the Georgian terraces are also being developed (Saint & Guillery, 2012). In turn, there has been an increase in population growth which is mainly indicated by the demand in housing facilities. One specific health issue in Woolwich is a decline in the quality of air.

Urban Health Issue – Data and Statistics

Premature deaths of people in Britain as a result of air pollution hit 29, 000 every year (Vidal, 2013; Gallagher, 2014) representing twice as many deaths compared to the ones that arise from road accidents. House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (2011) claim that 15 – 20% more people have prematurely lost their lives in cities that are highly air-polluted compared to those who live in areas with a clean atmosphere. Woolwich flyover records air pollution that is “well over the legal limit” (Pearson Education, 2013). The fumes produced by the automobiles plying the route are responsible for that. Apart from the premature deaths, poor quality of air worsens asthmatic conditions of people, causes coronary heart disease (Lin et. al., 2003) and negatively affects lung function (Schwartz, 2004) and other respiratory functions (silvertowntunnel.co.uk). This therefore makes Woolwich an important area of study for air pollution, its causes and effects, challenges in containing it and policies created in managing it.

The annual mean limit value of both NO2 and PM10 set in Europe is 40 micrograms per meter cubed (μm/m3). Unfortunately, Woolwich flyover has a much higher concentration of NO2 (table 1 below). Woolwich was in 2011 identified by the Greater London Authority (GLA) among other Air Quality Focus Areas within RB Greenwich. The area produces 43 μm/m3 amount of NO2 which is mainly emitted from the buses (Appendix 1). This amount is only second to 67 μm/m3 NO2 amount produced in Woolwich flyover. Statistics by the institute of medicine (2010) record 10 deaths out of a population of 15310 and 11 deaths out of a population of 17242 living in Woolwich Common and Woolwich Riverside respectively attributed to exposure of people to PM2.5 pollution in 2008 (table 2). Generally, an increase in NO2 and PM10 concentrations has been found to increase the rate of mortality (Janke, Propper & Henderson, 2007).

Analysis and Discussion

High concentration of NO2 causes inflammation of the airways (Greater London Authority, 2012). The lung function will be affected and respiratory symptoms will start to appear with continuous exposure to NO2. Particulate matter (PM) causes aggravation of the respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. PM are very minute and they are deposited deeply within the respiratory tract. PM is believed to have the greatest effect on the human health with an approximation of 4300 deaths per year in London. This means that Woolwich has an even greater share and risk in deaths caused by PM. 150 deaths have been occurred in RB Greenwich with Woolwich and its environment (Woolwich Common, Charlton, Plumstead and Woolwich Riverside) reporting a combined death of 38. We should remember the fact that everyone in the wards breathes the same air so they are all at equal risk of PM-related death or infection.

NO2 and PM10 pollutants are mostly produced by the diesel exhaust fumes of vehicles (Ferguson, Maheswaran & Daly, 2004). With an increase in urbanization, the transport system has to be developed to meet the demands of the growing population. The bus industry has also grown so as to be able to cater for people who cannot afford vehicles. The well-off individuals in Woolwich use their personal vehicles for transport. With the increase in automobiles, the Woolwich has become more busy and congested. As a result there has been a considerable amount of emissions of nitrogen compounds from the burning of petrol and diesel fuels.


Pedestrians and school children are majorly affected by the air pollution caused by vehicle emission. This is because they cover distances of up to 150 meters along the road. Some children attend schools that are located very close to busy roads (Deguen & Denis, 2010). With a 1.1 million children out of 5.4 million people receiving treatment for their asthmatic conditions, this kind of pollution will provoke and worsen their illness. New cases of asthma and respiratory disorders will also be reported.

With regeneration of Woolwich, transport demand would still continue to increase. Limiting the levels of NO2 and PM proves to be very challenging. With an increase in cases of respiratory disorders the hospitals will not be able to provide full medical care. It is very difficult to detect air pollution as a result of excessive amounts of microscopic and invisible NO2 and PM. It is until the condition has worsened up, when you start showing the symptoms. Air pollution is caused by poisonous emission from vehicles, factories, ferries and domestic appliances within Woolwich. It is going to be difficult to stop their usage. Reducing the level of pollution would need formulation of policies and implementation by the authorities.

Policies and Recommendations to Improve Air Quality

Some policies that have been created to improve air quality in London and Woolwich include the air quality Directive (2008/50/EC – “Air Quality Directive”) issued by the European Union. It set the standards for the type of pollutants that are harmful to human health and the environment. They directive has put the limit and target values. The national Air Quality strategy, 2007 identifies air quality standards and objectives for the main air pollutants. It also guides different sectors such as the industry, local government and transport on how to achieve air quality objectives. The Low Emission Zones (LEZs) policy restricts entry of the most pollutant heavy diesel vehicles into cities (London Borough of Newham, 2003).

To improve air quality, the above policies must be implemented. Other strategies can include encouraging walking, using of bicycles or motor cycles or any other means of transport that uses the least amount of fuel. To avoid respiratory disease infection, pedestrians, passengers, cyclists and motorists can avoid hotspots where there are congestions and large amounts of emissions (McAuley & Pedroso, 2012). Children who go to school should be advised to avoid using busy roads while the schools must be situated far away from the busy roads. To reduce the risk of contracting respiratory or lung diseases, the Woolwich government should expand its road network so that busy roads and stations are decongested. Personal vehicles can also be declined entry into the most populous areas.


Growth in urbanization results in population growth. Populations face great risks for diseases, disabilities and premature deaths. Regeneration schemes have been set up around Woolwich in construction, transport, housing and manufacturing sectors. Woolwich is experiencing a decline in the quality of air. 15 – 20% more people have prematurely lost their lives in cities that are highly air-polluted compared to those who live areas with a clean atmosphere. Poor quality of air worsens asthmatic conditions of people and causes other respiratory diseases. NO2cause inflammation of the airways while Particulate matter (PM) aggravates respiratory and cardiovascular conditions and alter blood cells and platelets circulation. Deaths have increase as a result of the NO2 and PM pollutants

Challenges faced in tackling the health issue include transport system demands, congestion, limiting the levels of NO2 and PM and an increase in cases of respiratory disorders. Some policies that have been created to ensure air quality are the air quality Directive (2008/50/EC – “Air Quality Directive”), national Air Quality strategy, 2007, The Low Emission Zone policy Other strategies can include walking, using of bicycles or motor cycles, avoiding hotspots where there are congestions and large amounts of emissions, avoiding using busy roads and ensuring that schools to be situated far away from the busy roads and expanding road networks so that busy roads and stations are decongested

Table 1. Location and air pollutants monitored in RB Greenwich

Location Pollutants Annual mean NO2 concentration ug/m3 2011 Annual mean PM10


ug/m3 2011

A206 Burrage Grove NO2PM10 43 28
Fiveways Sidcup Rd NO2, PM10 47 30
Eltham NO2, PM10, O3, SO2 23 23
Blackheath NO2, PM10 48 32
Millenium Village NO2, PM10 33 25
Plumstead NO2, PM10, O3 42 22
Trafalgar Road NO2 PM10 42 23
Westhorne NO2 PM10 43 23
Woolwich Flyover NO2 PM10 67 35

Table 2. Number of deaths attributed to exposure to PM2.5 pollution in 2008 in wards in the Royal Borough of Greenwich

Ward Total population Attributable deaths
Abbey Wood 14,053 9
Blackheath Westcombe 12,261 8
Charlton 12,800 8
Coldharbour and New Eltham 12,546 8
Eltham North 12,459 8
Eltham South 11,966 8
Eltham West 13,810 9
Glyndon 15,458 10
Greenwich West 13,830 9
Kidbrooke with Hornfair 13,127 8
Middle Park and Sutcliffe 13024 8
Peninsula 13309 8
Plumstead 14386 9
Shooters Hill 13075 8
Thamesmead Moorings 17794 11
Woolwich Common 15310 10
Woolwich Riverside 17242 11
Total 236450 150

Appendix 1




Appendix 2

Map Image of Woolwich and its Neighborhood


Air Quality Expert Group (2005) Particulate Matter in the United Kingdom. London: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Deguen, S. & Denis, Z. (2010). “Social inequalities resulting from health risks related to ambient air quality – A European review.” European Journal of Public Health. Vol. 20 Issue 1, pp. 27–35.

Ferguson, E., Maheswaran, R. & Daly, M. (2004). Road-traffic pollution and asthma – using modelled exposure assessment for routine public health surveillance. International Journal of Health Geographics. Vol. 3 Issue 24

Gallagher, J. (2014). “Air Pollution ‘Causing Deadly Public Health Crisis’.”BBC. Retrieved January 28, from m.bbc.com/news/healt-30349398

Greater London Authority (2012). Air quality in Greenwich: a guide for public health professionals. The Queen’s Walk More, London: Greater London Authority City Hall

Janke, K., Propper, C. & Henderson, J. (2007).  Are current levels of air pollution in England too high? The impact of pollution on population mortality. Houghton Street, London:  Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE)

Lamere, C. (2013). “Urban Health and Demographic Trends: More Cities, More Problems.” Wilson Center. retrieved January 28, from www.newscuritybeat.org/2013/urban-health-and-demographic-trends-cities-problems/

Lin C., Pereira, L., de Souza, G., Kishi, H., Milani R.,Braga A. & Saldiva, P. (2003). “Association between air pollution and ischemic cardiovascular emergency room visits.” Environmental Research. Vol. 92, pp. 57-63.

London Borough of Newham (2003). Air Quality Action Plan Consultation Report. London: London Borough of Newham

McAuley, T. & Pedroso, M. (2012). Safe Routes to School and Traffic Pollution: Get Children Moving and Reduce Exposure to Unhealthy Air. Safe Routes to School National Partnership

Person Education (2013). UK air pollution: a public health crisis? Person Education Ltd.

Schwartz, J. “Air Pollution and Children’s Health.” Pediatrics. Vol. 113 Issue 3 pp. 1037 -1043

Vidal, J. (2013). “UK Air Pollution: why are we only now walking up to this public health crisis?” The Guardian. Retrieved January 28, 2015 from www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/mar/19/uk- air-pollution-health-crisis

Saint, A. & Guillery, P. (2012). Woolwich (Survey of London). Yale University Press.

“How air pollution affects your health.” NoSilvertownTnl. Retrieved January 28, from www.silvertowntunnel.co.ke/pollution/health-impacts-of-air-pollution/