Reversing years of air pollution isn’t going to happen overnight but we need to start somewhere

We’re not going to be the first nor the last organisation that says something needs to be done about air pollution in the UK.

Numerous studies have shown that exposure to air pollution can be bad for our health. Generally if you are young or in a good state of health, moderate air pollution levels are unlikely to have any serious effects. However, higher levels and/or long term exposure can lead to more serious symptoms and conditions.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) is a membership organisation for environmental health professionals. What makes our voice unique, in what is a very crowded space, is that the environmental health profession is the primary workforce on the front line in the battle against air pollution.

Our members have been critical to the delivery of significant advances in this arena for more than 100 years and particularly since the introduction of the Clean Air Act 1956. Essentially, we’re interested in air pollution because our members ‘do’ air pollution control.

Along with many other organisations, we believe that the Government has shirked its responsibilities, their plans are weak and we need a new air quality strategy. Reversing years of air pollution isn’t going to happen overnight. But there are differing levels of initiatives that the Government should implement.

At a base level, we would like to see the Government make more effort to educate people about air pollution and introduce new initiatives to encourage people to use local public transport or engage in active travel.

Power Station - United Kingdom

Using these simple steps as a solid base, we would like to see incentives for diesel vehicles reversed, while encouraging more individuals and organisations to purchase sustainable hybrid and electric vehicles.

Wider areas of public policy also have their role to play. Additional efforts should be made to better control, mitigate and reduce pollutants through the use of planning powers, such as tree-planting, ‘green walls’ and energy efficiency programmes. NICE’s draft air pollution report also contains sensible suggestions on how to better use local planning by moving traffic hotspots away from residential areas and hospitals.

There’s also an interesting debate being argued around the effect of road safety measures on air quality. While introducing speed bumps and limiting the speed limit in certain areas helps keep people safe, it does mean cars are more frequently stopping and starting and this unfortunately contributes to higher emissions.

The final piece in the jigsaw is the role of central Government. A good start is that they need to be clearer in their plans as to how they are going to fund the proposed Clean Air Zones and not unload the responsibility on local authorities, who are stretched as it is.

And Government must ensure that environmental protections led by the EU are not weakened or eroded during the process of Brexit. To prevent this from happening, we would like to see a new Clear Air Act introduced. An updated piece of legislation that is suitable for today, while sending out a strong message that the Government is taking air quality seriously.

Improving air quality is not a short term project and requires everyone working together to ensure future generations have clean air to breath. We are extremely pleased to be joining the APPG on Air Pollution as one of its newest members and hope our expertise, through our members, will lead to more robust debate and evidence to make effective changes today.

Article by Debbie Wood, Executive Director for Policy and Membership Development, CIEH

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