Helen Apsimon's Story

Author: Helen ApSimon
Helen Apsimon's Story

As a founding member and Chairman of the European Association for the Science of Air Pollution (EURASAP), Helen’s Fellowship aimed to extend the Association into Eastern Europe through meeting with working scientists and discussing their priorities regarding air pollution control.

The Fellowship

In 1988 Helen travelled to Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria and met with a wide range of knowledgeable and enthusiastic scientists, two of whom subsequently became Ministers for Environment in their respective countries. Through them, Helen was able to learn about and witness first-hand the main air pollution issues facing each country prior to the major political changes and transition in Europe.

In what is now the Czech Republic, the siting of energy intensive industries yielded pollution levels she had never witnessed before, mirrored on the other side of the mountains by high pollution in Silesia. Nor had she ever seen such forest damage, with grey skeletons of trees stretching mile after mile on the mountain sides. Urban pollution however was constrained by the low car ownership, and blackened buildings in the historic city of Krakow were being carefully restored. Helen was also introduced to beautiful natural and unspoilt areas such as the Tatra Mountains.

Through her Fellowship Helen was able to forge links with scientists across Eastern Europe, facilitating collaboration in the fight to control air pollution.

The Results

After her Fellowship, Helen returned to the polluted “Black Triangle” region to work with scientists from the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany to assess the problems of sulphur and acid deposition with funding from the European Commission. The British Council also supported Helen to collaborate with the Jan E Purkyne University in the north of the Czech Republic in developing an environmental faculty with modern electronic library facilities.

In 1990 Helen became involved in the work of the UN Economic Commission for Europe under its Convention on Long-Range Trans-boundary Air Pollution. This has been successful in developing international agreements to combat air pollution problems including acid rain, damage to natural ecosystems from excess nitrogen, and enhanced concentrations of ozone, as well as improvements in human health.

Helen is now Professor of Air Pollution Studies at Imperial College London, where she has worked for over 30 years. Her special interest is in linking science and policy effectively, and addressing uncertainties at international, national and local level. Recognising the importance of networking Helen established APRIL (Air Pollution Research in London) to bring together the research community and those responsible for managing air pollution. Recently Helen has been serving as the air quality expert on the Airport Commission’s expert panel. In 2013, she was awarded the CBE for services to air pollution science.