By Jon Fairburn, Professor of Sustainable Development
Poor air quality is responsible for over 35,000 deaths in the UK every year and hundreds of thousands of ill-health episodes.
Last Autumn the World Health Organization (WHO) released new standards for air quality as a result of research showing that air pollution causes problems in every part of the body. Furthuremore, air pollution is worst in the most deprived areas across Europe and these are also often populations that are more vulnerable as well.
WHO have set an annual mean target of 5 ugm3 for Particulates (PM2.5) and WHO states “Exceedance of the air quality guideline levels is associated with important risks to public health”.
What has been the government’s response? As it happens the Environment Bill is going through Parliament and they are currently out to consultation on what the targets should be – their suggestion a target of 10 ugm3 by 2040! Note the consultation closes 27th June
So, they propose a target that is twice the WHO standard to be met in a generation. Why does air pollution have such a low priority in Britain? In part because there has been a marked political reluctance to change policy and behaviours – failures include:
a. Deregulation of buses outside London which led to a steep fall in bus use.
b. The lack of cheap, reliable and extensive mass transport in most cities outside London.
c. A failure to develop active transport including dedicated integrated cycle lanes in towns and cities
d. Failure to regulate or ban wood burning stoves which now account for 40% of PM2.5 emissions and which continue to grow in use.
e. A virtual complete lack of air quality enforcement by local authorities. (The Guardian report in 2021 there had only been 19 penalities in 6 years by local authorities).
If you want to find out your local level of pollution have a look a this site https://www.addresspollution.org/
The University is a partner in #CleanAirDay
I maintain an air quality list on twitter here
The House of Commoms Public Affairs Committee is currently calling for evidence to tackle local air quality breaches – closing deadline 20th June