In many towns and cities across the UK, air pollution is at illegal and unsafe levels. In 2015, 169 local authorities had areas that breached legal and safe levels for a poisonous gas known as nitrogen dioxide. Likewise, the World Health Organisation published data earlier this year that showed more than 40 places have unsafe levels of particulate matter (PM2.5). To date, progress on air quality has largely been driven by European Union (EU) legislation. In the last two years the government has been taken to court twice for failing to meet EU limits. The prime minister recently acknowledged the scale of this crisis and stated “there is more” for the government to do. We urge the government to ensure these words quickly transpire into actions and tangible solutions that seek to protect all our health.
Air pollution is linked to at least 40,000 early deaths a year and hits the Treasury with a yearly bill of £27 billion. Across Europe, only Italy has a higher number of attributable deaths from nitrogen dioxide. On a global level, some of our most polluted hotspots are on par with cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
Unsafe pollution levels increase all our chances of getting lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. For the 12 million people in the UK who already live with a lung condition, pollution can make their condition worse, increase their chance of hospitalisation and early death. Children’s lungs are still growing so they are especially vulnerable to polluted air. Pollution has been shown to stunt their lung growth, irritate their airways and worsen asthma. Young children are in fact so vulnerable to these impacts, that their lung development can be stunted before they are even born.
Good progress has been made by the government over the last year. However the extent of this public health crisis is going to require further and faster action. Under current plans, children will still be breathing unsafe levels of pollution for another 9 years, this will be far too late.
That’s why we’ve launched a petition calling on the UK government to protect children’s lungs from pollution. 60 years ago, the last clean air act successfully laid out policies which helped clean up our industrial pollution. Now we need a new clean air act to tackle our modern pollution problem – traffic fumes. This act will provide an opportunity to set the UK’s legal pollution limits in line with the World Health Organisation, bring together all existing air quality laws and set a national framework to improve public health.
Alongside this, a network of clean air zones should be extended to pollution hotspots across the UK. These zones should seek to restrict emissions from the most polluted vehicles through charging policies and incentives. Cleaner, affordable and accessible transport options must also be promoted to ensure that people have other travel choices.
We have the power in our hands to bring emission levels down, but change won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, it is essential that children’s lungs are protected. This should be done by increasing the amount of air pollution monitoring outside schools so parents and teachers have the information they need to protect children’s health.
Will you help us tackle this public health crisis? Sign the clean air petition today: www.blf.org.uk/clean-air