Air pollution from construction sites, analysing the environmental impact of construction

August 31, 2023
Air pollution from construction sites, analysing the environmental impact of construction

We live in an age where the expansion of cities and the construction of infrastructure are synonymous with progress.

However, these new buildings and facilities can lead to significant air pollution. These emissions are the result of possible demolition work, the movement of machinery or the transport of construction materials.

So, this article set outs to shed some light on the environmental impact of construction, while also highlighting the key role of air quality monitoring in creating a more sustainable future.


Construction must change paradigm

The old formulas and traditional construction methods are no longer valid in a world obliged to preserve the environment and the health of an increasingly aware general public.

Urban inhabitants are aware of their right to clean air and do not hesitate to make use of all the mechanisms available to them.

How to reconcile the interests of construction companies and the legitimate demands of society while also reducing air pollution from construction sites? Developing proactive behaviour that leads to accurate monitoring of air quality in real time.


How does air pollution from construction sites affect us?

Construction or demolition works deteriorate air quality in three main ways:

  • Dust nuisance. The circulation of machinery, demolition operations or the loading and unloading of materials release suspended particles (PM10, PM2.5 and PM1) that can cause health risks when inhaled, especially among the most vulnerable groups of people.
  • Atmospheric emissions from machinery. Machinery on a construction site generates noise, dust and gases such as NOx or CO.
  • Transport of construction materials. The handling of construction materials also contributes to higher pollution levels, especially in the case of particulate matter.

Air pollution from construction is a real challenge due to the various sources and emanation of different pollutants. In this respect, particulate matter is one of the most harmful emissions. Their hazardous nature derives from their size, for example, particles ranging from 10 microns (PM10) to 1 micron (PM1). In addition to this characteristic, sometimes the nature of the particle must also be taken into account, since, in the case of asbestos, silica or wood, it can represent an added risk factor. However, detailed analyses are necessary to ascertain this.


Demolition of the Vicente Calderón stadium, how to measure air pollution from construction work

The demolition of the Vicente Calderón football stadium in Madrid exemplifies the impact of construction-related air pollution.

Erri Berri decided to use Kunak AIR stations to monitor the air quality in real-time during this activity, and this measure is required by the Madrid City Council for all the works carried out in the city.

The solution adopted to monitor the environmental impact of construction consisted of deploying a network of sensors to measure:

  • CO, NO2, SO2 and O3.
  • PM1, PM2.5 and PM10 particles.
  • Noise levels.
  • Temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure.


Analysing the environmental impact of construction on air quality

The environmental impact of a construction site is wide-ranging.

In this sense, air quality may be relegated to the background. It is, after all, a temporary condition, generally limited to the period during which the works are being carried out.

But this is no excuse for not adopting measures to help reconcile environmental protection and construction or demolition activities.

Thus, it should be noted that the environmental impact of construction on the atmosphere can manifest itself in different ways:

  • Ecological impacts: pollutants from construction activities can alter the quality of water resources. But they can also affect the vegetation and animal species that make up ecosystems and upset the ecological balance.
  • Impact on public health: the emissions mentioned in the previous section may have a significant impact on local communities and inhabited areas in the vicinity of the construction site.
  • Climate connection: the soot or black carbon which is part of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) absorbs sunlight, thus contributing to global warming.


Mitigation strategies or how to move towards more sustainable construction

Addressing the challenge of air pollution in construction requires the deployment of a number of innovative strategies.

Some measures that stand out are:

  • Use of more sustainable materials. Recycling and reusing building materials or low-VOC paints can minimise the emission of harmful substances during and after construction.
  • Air quality monitoring. Monitoring dust levels (PM1, PM2.5, PM4, PM10, total suspended particulates and total particle counts) in real-time with systems such as those offered by Kunak is one of the most effective measures that can be taken on a construction site. Based on the continuous measurement of the different parameters, different mechanisms such as water spraying, installation of dust barriers, PPE and masks can be chosen.
  • Use of more efficient machinery. The design and manufacture of increasingly efficient and sustainable machinery and vehicles, such as those powered by electric motors, also play an important role in moving towards more environmentally friendly construction.


In a nutshell

Air pollution from construction sites has an impact that cannot be underestimated.

It is necessary to ensure that construction activities do not compromise the air we breathe. By adopting sustainable materials, strict regulations and innovative technologies we can move towards a harmonious balance between development and environmental preservation.

The construction sector has the power to shape a future where progress and clean air coexist. Let’s make it happen.