Setting the record straight on air pollution

While more and more people are recognising the need to take urgent action on air pollution, some lobby groups have started to try to cast doubt over whether it is a problem at all but the evidence speaks for itself.

The health impacts of air pollution are clear. Doctors at the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published a report last year that outlined how air pollution affects us all, from the time that we are in the womb through to old age. They estimated that the health impacts of air pollution causes the equivalent of 40,000 early deaths annually across the UK. This is a complex analysis by health experts that cannot be replicated on the back of an envelope, so those claiming that it’s just a matter of a few hours taken off people’s lives should be more responsible with what they say.

The report outlines how air pollution can trigger heart and asthma attacks and increases the risk of people ending up in hospital or dying from these. How it’s linked to premature births and can cause children to grow up with smaller lungs, leading to lifelong health problems. And how a growing body of evidence is highlighting how air pollution not only affects our physical health but could also be damaging our brains and mental processes.

That’s why publications like IB Times regularly report the dangers of pollution. Because it’s seriously endangering the health of all of us – even those who have vested interests in protecting the motor and haulage industries.

Road transport is the main source of illegal and harmful levels of air pollution in our towns and cities. This is not just because of the emissions it produces but also because it does so in the very arteries of our urban areas that is the road network. This is how people are exposed to the problem on a daily basis.

The Government’s own analysis for its air quality plans shows that where legal limits are broken in the UK, road transport is responsible for 80% of the pollution. Within that category diesel vehicles are responsible for 90% of NOx emissions that cause the problem. Breaking this down further shows that diesel cars are responsible for 35% of these emissions, diesel vans 22%, HGVs 18%, buses 16% and taxis 2%.

In Greater London, there’s a similar pattern. According to the Greater London Authority road transport is responsible for 50% of NOx emissions overall with domestic and commercial boilers contributing 18% of the emissions. Diesel cars are again the biggest source of road transport emissions, responsible for 24% of road transport emissions or 12% of the overall total emissions.

That is why we need ambitious policies to protect people’s health. We need a national network of Clean Air Zones that take the dirtiest vehicles off the most polluted parts of towns and cities. The Government’s own evidence show this is the most effective measure for tackling illegal levels of pollution.

Diesel drivers should not be vilified. Motorists have bought their cars in good faith and they have been let down by the car manufacturers and the government. But the truth is that many of those cars are causing harm to the health of drivers as well as others around them.  That’s why we need a set of measures to help people to switch to cleaner forms of transport such as a scrappage scheme, which was absent from the Government’s plans. All diesel vehicles – not just cars – are an issue.  But the dirtiest cars are a big part of the problem and this needs to be acknowledged in any plan which is going to be effective in tackling pollution.

Unfortunately, the UK Government’s new air quality plans have fallen short of this challenge. Instead of drawing up and introducing polices to clean up our dirty air and protect people’s health, they are underwhelming and lacking in urgency.

Instead of denying that there is a problem in the face of overwhelming evidence from health experts, we need people to come together in support of policies that can be shown to address the root cause of the problem of illegal and harmful levels of air pollution.

A version of this article appeared in the IB Times.

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