MPs have today delivered a damning assessment of the Government’s performance on tackling air quality issues.
Poor air quality reduces average life expectancy in the UK by an average of seven to eight months and it could lead to up to 50,000 premature deaths every year, according to a report released today by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).
The MPs said that the UK should be ‘ashamed’ of its air quality and called for dramatic changes to be made to the UK’s transport policy in order to improve the situation.
The report said failing to act would result in EU fines, which could total as much as £300 million pounds.
Political 'blame game'
London was singled out for its continuing failure to meet targets on airborne particles known as PM10, which are particularly harmful for asthma sufferers.
‘Nearly a third of asthma sufferers say that a reduction in air pollution is the single thing that would improve their quality of life in relation to their asthma,’ said a spokesperson for Asthma UK.
Experts pinned this lack of effective action in the capital on a ‘blame game’ between different levels of Government. Londoners now breathe the worst air in Europe, said Alan Andrews, a lawyer at Client Earth.
‘The Mayor is blaming national government for the failure and the Government is pointing the finger at the Mayor,’ he said.
‘There is inertia in Government on this issue: the health impacts and costs of EU sanctions aren’t being factored into decision making,’ he added.
Andrews called on the Government set up a national scheme for Low Emissions Zones, promote moves towards electrification and do more to combat ‘dirty diesel engines’ in taxis.
Technology failing lungs
The other main source of air pollution highlighted in the report was nitrogen dioxide, which at times exceeds EU limits by 200 - 300 per cent on busy roads, according to Dr. Gary Fuller from The London Air Quality Network at King’s College London.
‘Technological measures are not yielding the necessary results: policy makers need to look at other alternatives which include changing demand for travel,’ said Fuller.
The EAC report did not specifically mention air transport but scientists and campaigners have highlighted the area around Heathrow airport as an air pollution hotspot.
‘Any third runway at Heathrow is going to make meeting European limits on nitrogen dioxide impossible,’ said Andrews.
How to check the air quality in your area
You might not know it, but the UK has some of the worst air quality hotspots in Europe. Follow these tips to find the cleanest air you possibly can
How the legal system is preventing environmental justice
Individuals and local campaign groups are being prevented from challenging environmental damage because of the potentially crippling cost of legal action
Bigger engines, two-car households and school runs on rise
Far from downsizing, Government transport statistics reveal a trend towards multi-car households and bigger engines as well as more children being driven to school
What is the Pill doing to our bodies and planet?
It was the drug that fuelled the sexual liberation of the 1960s, but what price are we paying for our love of the contraceptive Pill?
Particles from car brakes harm lungs
Findings highlight the importance of reducing brake particle emissions as well as exhaust to safeguard human health