Helen ApSimon, professor of air pollution studies at Imperial College London, has been awarded a CBE for services to air pollution science in the Queen’s Birthday Honours announced on Friday (June 14).
Professor ApSimon, who lives in Frimley, Surrey, told airqualitynews.com that she was “very surprised” to receive the honour.
She said: “I got a very formal letter from the Cabinet Office about five weeks ago and I’ve been having to keep it quiet ever since. It doesn’t really change anything – I will carry on doing what I can because I enjoy it and find it rewarding.
“I am very pleased because I have spent a lot of time working in this area and I have done a lot of networking to bring together different people involved in tackling and understanding air pollution. It is nice to think this has been of any use to anybody – that it has been acknowledged that what I have done if useful.”
Having grown up in Northampton, Professor ApSimon studied maths at Oxford before beginning her career in air pollution research with the modelling of nuclear accidents. She later went on to look at international issues such as acid rain and air pollution in Eastern Europe.
She said: “I think I have always been interested in model systems of the atmosphere rather than man-made engineering things. I’ve always been interested in the environment too, so I took the opportunities when I saw them.”
Over the last 12 years she has undertaken modelling and assessment of strategies to reduce acidification, eutrophication, excess tropospheric ozone and fine particulate matter concentrations as part of task forces under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)’s Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.
She also established Air Pollution Research in London (APRIL) in 1996 to look at strategies to reduce air pollution in the capital and now co-chairs the group, alongside the Greater London Authority (GLA’s) air quality manager Elliot Treharne. The group holds regular open meetings and has more than 200 members, including air quality consultants, the Met Office and Natural England.
Furthermore, she is a founder member, chairman and president of the European Association for the Science of Air Pollution (EURASAP), which was set up to facilitate the collaboration of air pollution scientists across different European countries.
Among a number of expert groups and panels, she also sits on the Air Quality Expert Group at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Looking to the future, Professor ApSimon – who has worked at Imperial College London for more than 30 years – said she had recently signed a new three-year contract with Defra and had just finished a report for the Committee on Climate Change.
She added: “I think air quality sometimes has a tendency to be ignored now that the likes of acid rain have more or less been eradicated, but we still have a lot of problems to solve.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that we still have serious health impacts from air pollution as the average life-shortening if between three and nine months, and we have problems in the UK to meet air quality standards. We need policy that integrates both climate change and air quality strategies together.”