Friday 15 July 2011

Air pollution - the stealthy killer

Keith Taylor, the Green MEP for South East England will today launch a report about air pollution and its health impacts. Each year in the UK air pollution causes 29,000 deaths and contributes to over 200,000 premature deaths, yet public awareness of this killer is very low. Keith Taylor aims to raise awareness of the issues with his new report, ‘Air Pollution: The Invisible Killer’. The report asserts that air pollution is creating an invisible public health crisis which is not being addressed by the UK government.

Dirty air has a greater health impact than many high profile public health issues, such as passive smoking and obesity, yet unlike the smog of the 1950s it is an invisible killer. Long term exposure to air pollution is associated with heart and lung disease. The report includes recent research from California which has shown that children growing up near motorways can suffer permanently reduced lung capacity. This is an extremely worrying finding which highlights the desperate need for more research into the health effects of air pollution. Government figures show that the health costs of just one pollutant, PM2.5, are already £15 billion each year.

The UK government is currently failing to implement legally binding EU levels on air quality. In 2009 the EU started legal action against the UK for breaching safe levels of pollutants, but the government has now been granted more time to meet the EU’s deadline. If the UK doesn’t comply with safe levels the government risks being fined up to £3000.

The UK government is currently preparing to report on Nitrogen Dioxide levels to the European Commission in September and has indicated that it is likely that safe levels will not be achieved in many areas. ‘Air Pollution: The Invisible Killer’ contains a map which shows that air pollution is widespread across London and South East England. Many local authorities in the region have declared that they are likely to exceed the required EU safe levels for pollutants. Keith believes that this inertia on such an important health issue is unacceptable.

Up to 70% of air pollution in urban areas is from road transport. Keith’s air pollution campaign is calling for national government to provide adequate funding to local authorities to invest in public transport, promoting walking and cycling and introduce public information systems to alert people to air pollution.

Keith said: “The right to breathe clean air is fundamental. Yet thousands of lives in the South East are being shortened because air is heavily polluted in many places, mostly by traffic. Government data shows that air pollution contributes to over 200,000 premature deaths every year in the UK. This is an invisible public health crisis which urgently needs to be tackled. ”

“This is a widespread problem which is getting worse. The UK government has recently admitted that they will not meet the required EU limits for Nitrogen Dioxide and must now explain this sorry state of affairs to the European Commission. The EU air quality standards have been put in place and agreed on by Member States, including the UK, because they set safe limits for the air we breathe. I am putting pressure on the European Commission to make sure that they do not allow the UK government to shirk its responsibility. The Commission must take urgent action to address air pollution and its harmful effects in areas where the UK is breaching, or likely to breach, EU limits.”

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