A QUARTER of people in the UK live in areas with toxic air pollution
A QUARTER of people in the UK live in areas with toxic air pollution: Experts say 15million citizens are at risk and urge the Government to create stricter clean air targets than the EU
- British Heart Foundation says 15million people inhale illegal levels of pollution
- More than 12 months ago the Government published a new Clean Air Strategy
- But charity slammed government and said progress has been sluggish since
One in four people in the UK are now subject to dangerous air pollution, experts warned last night.
A report by the British Heart Foundation estimates 15million people – a quarter of the British population – live in areas where average levels of toxic particles in the air exceed guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation.
The charity last night said the Government must do more to tackle the problem, thought to be linked to about 64,000 deaths a year, knocking 18 months off average life expectancy.
Air pollution is known to cause breathing problems, heart disease and neurological problems such as dementia.
Currently, the UK subscribes to the European Union’s 25 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) limit on levels of tiny toxic airborne particles, known as PM2.5.
But the British Heart Foundation has called for the Government to adopt the WHO’s stricter 10ug/m3 limit into UK law by 2030 to drive down pollution levels.
Using cars for shopping trips and leisure activities creates more than 50 per cent of all road pollution (stock)
More than 12 months ago ministers published a new Clean Air Strategy which aimed to reduce levels of major air pollutants by 2025. But the BHF said progress since then has been sluggish.
Jacob West, director of healthcare innovation at the charity, said: ‘This Government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take brave political action in cleaning up our toxic air.
The UK cities with the most pollution relative to their size were revealed yesterday.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham compared traffic pollution levels in 146 places around England, Scotland and Wales.
They found Luton in Bedfordshire had the highest concentration of nitrogen oxide gases – exhaust fumes – relative to its size, traffic and population.
Crawley, Leamington Spa, Cardiff, Coventry, Stevenage, Tamworth, Worcester, Oxford and Bradford completed the worst 10.
The scientists had considered how well a city diluted or reduced its air pollution, taking into account how much it produced, its physical size and its population.
London still had by far the highest total amount of pollution but people using buses and trains meant there was a smaller proportion of it lingering in the air, compared to places where people drove themselves around in cars.
‘Tackling a public health emergency on this scale requires serious and sustained commitment.
‘This could mean changes that might not be easy or convenient for organisations or individuals, but they will prove crucial to protecting people’s health.
‘You only have to look at past Clean Air Acts or more recently the smoking ban for examples of bold legislation that has improved the air we all breathe.
‘The uncomfortable truth is that UK heart and circulatory deaths attributed to air pollution could exceed 160,000 over the next decade unless we take radical steps now.’
He added: ‘We can’t see them, but every day, we all breathe in tiny toxic particles which damage our heart and circulatory health. They are an invisible killer.
‘We must not become complacent and accept that dirty air is a part of normal life.
‘Politicians have a unique opportunity to limit the damaging effects of pollution and improve the quality of our air, and they must seize it.’
David Renard of the Local Government Association added: ‘Councils want to work with the Government to reduce harmful emissions, and have introduced a range of measures to tackle air pollution, such as clean air zones, encouraging the use of electric vehicles with recharging points and promoting cycling.
‘They have also been investing in cleaner buses, managing borough-wide air pollution monitoring networks, planning for new places in ways that improve air quality, and engaging with businesses to increase awareness and reduce their environmental impact.
‘For air quality plans to be successful, they need to be underpinned by local flexibility and sufficient funding, while issues around resourcing and capacity also need to be addressed.’
WHAT IS AIR POLLUTION?
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. After the gas is released into the atmosphere it stays there, making it difficult for heat to escape – and warming up the planet in the process.
It is primarily released from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as well as cement production.
The average monthly concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, as of April 2019, is 413 parts per million (ppm). Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was just 280 ppm.
CO2 concentration has fluctuated over the last 800,000 years between 180 to 280ppm, but has been vastly accelerated by pollution caused by humans.
The gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from burning fossil fuels, car exhaust emissions and the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers used in agriculture.
Although there is far less NO2 in the atmosphere than CO2, it is between 200 and 300 times more effective at trapping heat.
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) also primarily comes from fossil fuel burning, but can also be released from car exhausts.
SO2 can react with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to cause acid rain.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an indirect greenhouse gas as it reacts with hydroxyl radicals, removing them. Hydroxyl radicals reduce the lifetime of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
What is particulate matter?
Particulate matter refers to tiny parts of solids or liquid materials in the air.
Some are visible, such as dust, whereas others cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Materials such as metals, microplastics, soil and chemicals can be in particulate matter.
Particulate matter (or PM) is described in micrometres. The two main ones mentioned in reports and studies are PM10 (less than 10 micrometres) and PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres).
Air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels, cars, cement making and agriculture
Scientists measure the rate of particulates in the air by cubic metre.
Particulate matter is sent into the air by a number of processes including burning fossil fuels, driving cars and steel making.
Why are particulates dangerous?
Particulates are dangerous because those less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream. Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads.
What sort of health problems can pollution cause?
According to the World Health Organization, a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease can be linked to air pollution.
Some of the effects of air pollution on the body are not understood, but pollution may increase inflammation which narrows the arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes.
As well as this, almost one in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by air pollution.
Particulates find their way into the lungs and get lodged there, causing inflammation and damage. As well as this, some chemicals in particulates that make their way into the body can cause cancer.
Deaths from pollution
Around seven million people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. Pollution can cause a number of issues including asthma attacks, strokes, various cancers and cardiovascular problems.
Air pollution can cause problems for asthma sufferers for a number of reasons. Pollutants in traffic fumes can irritate the airways, and particulates can get into your lungs and throat and make these areas inflamed.
Problems in pregnancy
Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 per cent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.
Living within 3.1 miles (5km) of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.
For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 per cent, the research adds.
Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and ‘internal stress’.
What is being done to tackle air pollution?
Paris agreement on climate change
The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change.
It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.
Carbon neutral by 2050
The UK government has announced plans to make the country carbon neutral by 2050.
They plan to do this by planting more trees and by installing ‘carbon capture’ technology at the source of the pollution.
Some critics are worried that this first option will be used by the government to export its carbon offsetting to other countries.
International carbon credits let nations continue emitting carbon while paying for trees to be planted elsewhere, balancing out their emissions.
No new petrol or diesel vehicles by 2040
In 2017, the UK government announced the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be banned by 2040.
From around 2020, town halls will be allowed to levy extra charges on diesel drivers using the UK’s 81 most polluted routes if air quality fails to improve.
However, MPs on the climate change committee have urged the government to bring the ban forward to 2030, as by then they will have an equivalent range and price.
The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. Pictured: air pollution over Paris in 2019.
Norway’s electric car subsidies
The speedy electrification of Norway’s automotive fleet is attributed mainly to generous state subsidies. Electric cars are almost entirely exempt from the heavy taxes imposed on petrol and diesel cars, which makes them competitively priced.
A VW Golf with a standard combustion engine costs nearly 334,000 kroner (34,500 euros, $38,600), while its electric cousin the e-Golf costs 326,000 kroner thanks to a lower tax quotient.
Criticisms of inaction on climate change
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said there is a ‘shocking’ lack of Government preparation for the risks to the country from climate change.
The committee assessed 33 areas where the risks of climate change had to be addressed – from flood resilience of properties to impacts on farmland and supply chains – and found no real progress in any of them.
The UK is not prepared for 2°C of warming, the level at which countries have pledged to curb temperature rises, let alone a 4°C rise, which is possible if greenhouse gases are not cut globally, the committee said.
It added that cities need more green spaces to stop the urban ‘heat island’ effect, and to prevent floods by soaking up heavy rainfall.
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