The AQC service was established in 2009 to assess and monitor incidents generating large volumes of airborne emissions which may pose a threat to public health or sensitive features of the environment. The service was formed in response to the Buncefield Oil Depot explosion and fire of December 2005.

The primary aim of the service is to quickly bring together experts at the time of a relevant major incident to assess the emissions to air the risk that they pose to people and the environment and to give advice to incident commanders, health practitioners and the public.

The key element of the service is the Air Quality Cell (AQC) which is a virtual team of relevant technical experts from the Environment Agency (EA), Public Health England (PHE) and the Met Office (MO) whose primary role is public health risk assessment.

To inform the AQC’s assessment of the public health risk posed by emissions from relevant major incidents, the AQC may require air quality data and samples to be obtained on a 24/7/365 response basis. To achieve this, on behalf of the AQC service, the EA lets a contract for a supplier to provide a 24/7/365 air quality monitoring and sampling service to support the AQC when convened.