On Tuesday 12th December, the APPG on Air Pollution launched a report from the Environmental Industries Commission, the main UK trade body for the environmental sector, and Aether, a leading air quality consultancy. The report proposes an approach
to regulating air pollution post-Brexit which includes the adoption of global best practice such as requiring public authorities to continuously reduce the levels of pollutants such as Particulate Matter where there is no known safe level.
The event began with an outline of the report by Tim Williamson, Principal Consultant at Aether, and was followed by a panel session with presentations from:
Amy Mount, Head of Greener UK Unit at Green Alliance
Derek Osborn, Former Chair of the European Environment Agency
Matthew Pencharz, Former Deputy Mayor of London for Environment and Energy
Lots of people should want a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) for their town or city. A Clean Air Zone – where the dirtiest vehicles are restricted from the most polluted places – will help protect people’s health by making their illegally filthy air breathable again. And in the process, an effective one will make the place more attractive to live, work in, and visit.
As the government acknowledges, road traffic is the main issue for our illegal air, with diesels vehicles the worst of all – and cars are a particular problem. They also acknowledge that the fastest, and most effective way to deal with the issue is to introduce Clean Air Zones, and that doing so where pollution levels are worst will disproportionately benefit the more deprived and ethnically diverse groups.
Friends of the Earth wants to see strong Clean Air Zones in 53 locations in England. These are places which government modelling shows would otherwise still have illegal levels of the toxic gas NO2 in 2019. Further places in the Devolved Administrations also fit this criteria.
However, surprisingly, the government’s Air Quality Plan didn’t require any new Clean Air Zones. Instead they just asked some Local Authorities to submit Local Action Plans. These plans have to consider whether other measures could be as effective – despite their own evidence saying Clean Air Zones would bring down dirty air fastest. In effect, ministers are making Clean Air Zones the measure of last resort.
2010 was the original deadline for NO2 air pollution to be brought down to legal levels across the UK. It’s seven years later and we’re still waiting.
With 40,000 early deaths from air pollution each year, children growing up with lungs stunted by dirty air, and huge amounts of ill-health and suffering, we simply don’t have time to wait. As well as pursuing whatever action can be taken straight away, all of the places producing a Local Action Plan should be required to implement a Clean Air Zone.
Friends of the Earth’s view is that strong and effective Clean Air Zones need to:
be properly funded by government
apply to all vehicle types including cars
carry financial penalty sufficient to effectively ban nearly all of the worst polluting vehicles from those areas
be based on what vehicles emit in real world driving conditions
be introduced by the end of 2018
But as well separate arrangements for London, and 5 Clean Air Zones already being planned – all of which need strengthening – there are more towns and cities due to have illegal air until at least 2019. Friends of the Earth believes these should also get such a Clean Air Zone, taking the total to 53 in England.
Indeed places with an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) for NO2 should also be considered for Clean Air Zones. AQMAs have declared levels of NO2 over the same level as that set for the legal limit, so there’s no good reason they should be treated differently.
The introduction of Clean Air Zones is vital in the fight for clean air but they also need to be supported by government action which helps people to move away from the most polluting vehicles. This includes; better infrastructure for electric vehicles, changes to VED to end diesel incentives, and a scrappage scheme – part funded by the manufacturers – to help people who bought diesels in good faith. This must include offers of not just cleaner vehicles but also alternatives such as car club membership, rail season tickets and cycle loans.
But we don’t only need cleaner vehicles, we need fewer of them too. There’s no such thing as a 100% clean car. All vehicles, even if they produce no exhaust emissions, release fine particle pollution from tire and brake wear. As a result, we also need to design our communities better, so that they are no longer based around the car.
The key is in how we plan and regenerate our communities. We need to reduce the need for people to have to travel unnecessarily by ensuring key amenities and work opportunities are within easy walking and cycling distance, with good public transport nearby for longer journeys. This will require investment by both central and local government in better public transport, safer cycling and walking – as well as ensuring that new traffic-generating schemes don’t add to the air pollution problem.
Only then, with such a combination of action, can we deliver liveable towns and cities with the air fit to breathe we all want.
Jenny Bates is an Air Pollution Campaigner at Friends of the Earth
On the 19th October the APPG on Air Pollution ran a joint event with the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, the Grantham Institute and the Royal Metereological Society, focusing on vehicle emissions and their impact on air pollution.
To read a summary of the event, please visit the APPCCG website here.
A quick win for ministers on air pollution? Cleaner delivery trucks
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has sent out the right signals by announcing a ban on new diesel cars and vans from 2040, with the Scottish government aiming to do likewise by 2032. Despite these appropriate steps, an often-overlooked area- but with a significant and disproportionate negative impact- is transport refrigeration.
We have all seen the refrigerated delivery trucks that transport food and drink from farms and factories to our local supermarkets and restaurants. Many of these use not one, but two, diesel engines- the main engine at the front propelling the truck and the secondary engine keeping the back compartment cold. With extremely weak regulation on the secondary engine, it is allowed to be disproportionately polluting.
In fact, the secondary engine emits six times as much nitrogen oxide (NOx) as the main engine and 29 times as much particulate matter (PM). Drivers of diesel cars and vans will soon be looking to switch to electric or hybrid alternatives- but they will rightly wonder why heavily polluting secondary engines are still allowed on Britain’s roads.
The Dearman engine
To demonstrate the extent of their impact on air pollution, if Britain’s 84,000 transport refrigeration units (TRUs) became zero emission, it would be the particulate matter equivalent of taking 3.8 millionEuro 6 diesel cars off our roads.
Tackling this would be a quick win for government- but how?
Simply put, these secondary engines are also allowed to use red diesel, on which government charges much less fuel duty compared to standard white diesel. This reduced level of tax also means the Treasury foregoes £126 million of revenue. A number of zero emission TRUs are affordably available on the market, but the availability of cheap red diesel disincentivises their take-up.
Ministers are beginning to realise the scale of the problem here and Chancellor Philip Hammond rightly launched a consultation earlier this year on red diesel use in urban areas. He must now go all the way and use his Autumn Budget statement to announce an end to red diesel use in transport refrigeration. Clawing back tax revenue, encouraging a shift to affordable clean alternatives, and making a quick impact all make this a strong and positive measure for him to pursue.
David Sanders is the Commercial Director of Dearman Engine Company
On the 6th September the All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution held its Annual General Meeting to re-elect the chair and officers following last summer’s election. The meeting saw the re-election of the Chair Matthew Pennycook MP, as well as the officers. The APPG welcomes its newest officer, John McNally MP of the Scottish National Party.
The secretariat also updated attendees about the upcoming programme of events.
The current officers of the APPG on Air Pollution area as follows:
Over four fifths of UK adults think it is important to tackle air pollution in the UK. The UK’s first ever National Clean Air Day has since demonstrated the huge level of public willingness to take personal action to reduce air pollution and protect their health. And people are also prepared to put their money where their mouth is. Two thirds of people polled would be happy to pay for a ring-fenced fund to tackle air pollution, equivalent to £1 billion a year. People are now asking their leaders for the infrastructure and policy environment to support them and enable us all to breathe clean air.
The success of National Clean Air Day on June 15th 2017 demonstrates the public appetite for action on tackling air pollution. 28 thousand tweets, 550 media articles and over 200 grassroots events helped raise public awareness about the health impacts of air pollution and how to reduce and avoid air pollution. For the first time-ever, health-professional backed advice reached over 46 million people in the UK through the media, social media and public engagement events. The level of public interest in clean air peaked when #NationalCleanAirDay trended at number one on Twitter for five hours, showing that air pollution was more popular than Beer Day and Love Island.
June 15th 2017 started with school children across the country walking and cycling to school, instead of being driven: Levels of lateness at a primary school in Nottingham were markedly down on National Clean Air Day, as children set their alarms extra early to make sure they could walk to school in time for a celebratory cup of squash and to receive a certificate; children at St John’s School in Southampton celebrated cleaner air by cycling and playing in the street that had been closed outside their school.
As the day progressed, workplaces encouraged staff to leave the car at home and walk or cycle: Colmore Business District in Birmingham asked its 30,000 employees to make a pledge to support clean air and consider how packages are delivered; a lunchtime event to inspire businesses and professionals across Manchester attracted speakers from City of Trees, Transport for Greater Manchester and the British Lung Foundation.
Residents in Nottingham and Derby learnt about what they could do to protect their health from air pollution through public engagement events in the Intu shopping centres, while grass-covered furniture and cars full of flowers helped stop shoppers and workers in Leeds who then pledged to take action to reduce air pollution. These and hundreds more events took place in the Clean Air Zone cities and across England.
National Clean Air Day also triggered city mayors, council leaders and councillors from across the parties to get involved and pledge their support for cleaner air.
The seventy groups supporting National Clean Air Day – including Public Health England, the British Lung Foundation and King’s College London – have helped people across the country to understand why and how they can reduce air pollution and protect their health. From teachers to taxi drivers and nurses to builders, people are concerned and want action to cut air pollution. In polling, just under nine in ten people thought that new vehicle standards to reduce pollution from diesel cars should be brought in before 2020. In focus groups, taxi drivers told us how they feel the group most exposed to air pollution as they sit in toxic cabs with pollution pumping in from the cars in front. People know their health is being compromised and are primed to take action on air pollution. They are now ready to discuss with policy and decision makers how to improve the air quality in their local areas. The public want clean air.
A full report about National Clean Air Day will be published in September 2017.
It is widely known that there is a link between air pollution and respiratory conditions but the impact that air pollution has on cardiovascular health is perhaps not so well known. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated in 2012, that some 72% of outdoor, air pollution-related premature deaths were due to ischaemic heart disease and strokes. Despite this, polling shows that while nine in ten (89%) people know that air pollution can worsen asthma, less than two in ten (17%) are aware that it can also increase their risk of stroke.
Both long and short term exposure to air pollution can make existing heart conditions such as heart failure or angina worse and can cause heart attacks and strokes amongst people with existing cardiovascular disease. The link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease is particularly strong for particulate matter with a diameter under 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), which is derived from diesel vehicle exhausts. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) funded researchers at the University of Edinburgh who discovered that these tiny particles produce free radicals that can injure blood vessels and lead to disease. The particles prevent blood vessels from relaxing and contracting properly and this disturbance to blood vessel function means there is increased risk of clots developing in coronary arteries, which can cause a heart attack.
Short‐term exposure to high levels of particulate matter has been linked with an increase in the risk of heart attacks within a few hours to one day after exposure.
In 2014, the European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE) found that long term exposure to PM2.5 is strongly linked to heart attacks and angina. This study also highlighted that the risk of heart attack and angina increased at levels of PM2.5 exposure below current EU limit thresholds.
There are thought to be a number of ways that air pollution can contribute to cardiovascular disease. Inhaling harmful pollutants could cause inflammation, which may cause the arteries to narrow. These pollutants might also make the blood more likely to clot (which could cause a heart attack in someone who already has coronary heart disease), alter the function of the nervous system causing abnormal heart rhythms or increase blood pressure. The BHF is funding research in this area in order to better understand exactly how air pollution affects the heart and the blood vessels.
The impacts of air pollution are felt most strongly by individuals with existing heart conditions. For this reason it is advised that people with cardiovascular conditions might avoid spending long periods of time in places where there is high levels of air pollution. However this places an unfair burden upon already vulnerable people and it is very difficult for such people to limit their exposure by themselves. That is why the government and local authorities must take steps to improve air quality throughout the UK.
Kylie Barclay is Policy & Public Affairs Officer at the British Heart Foundation
This event was the first official APPG event of 2017 and aimed to explain the challenges that air pollution represents before later events in the year begin to develop ideas about how to tackle the problem.
Matthew Pennycook MP, the group’s chair, began the meeting by welcoming the audience and introducing the speakers.
Professor Anthony Frew, a respiratory consultant doctor working in Sussex opened remarks from the speakers. He said that there were a number of confusing claims about the impact of air pollution and would use his time to try to clarify some of the statistics. Importantly, he said that although he would be challenging the numbers, it was clear that air pollution is harmful – only the extent of the harm is what he was keen to question.
Professor Frew noted that the 1993 American ‘six cities study’ was the first to show incrementally higher death rates in cities associated with air pollution. In the UK, COMEAP (the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution) is the body that provides advice to government bodies on the impacts of air pollution. COMEAP’s estimate that 340,000 ‘life years’ are lost in the UK every year are based on decent evidence, but the way that information is presented to the public is problematic, Professor Frew said. The 340,000 life years figure is difficult for the public to understand, so COMEAP reinterpreted it and presented the research as linking air pollution to 40,000 deaths per year.
However, Professor Frew went on to say that the 40,000 deaths per year figure was misleading because it gave no indication of the age of the people dying, their existing health conditions and said that no one would ever have ‘air pollution’ on their death certificate. For these reasons, the focus should be on the impact of air pollution on morbidity instead of mortality.
Furthermore, Professor Frew spoke briefly about nitrogen oxides which are often claimed to be as damaging as particulate matter. He said that, so far, evidence on the health impacts of NOx is inconclusive but that about 10,000 of the 40,000 COMEAP deaths are identified as a result of NOx exposure.
It is important to remember that air pollution is not nearly as damaging as smoking and that the quality of the air in, for example, the city centres of the 1970s was significantly worse. Professor Frew closed by saying that exaggerated claims about the impacts of air pollution are damaging.
Dr Penny Woods, the Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation then began her part of the session by promising to provide a more human perspective on these issues. She agreed that we do not yet know how NOx effects our health and conceded that the evidence on air pollution is always improving but, despite the uncertainty, we are sure that air pollution is bad for us.
Dr Woods said that the WHO labelled diesel as carcinogenic in 2013 and that COPD and asthma attacks can be brought on and conditions worsened by air pollution. She said that this resulted in around a 25% difference in lung capacity, as shown in one Californian study. Indeed, the impacts of air pollution tend to hit the most vulnerable hardest, with those on lower incomes more likely to live in high pollution hotspots and to have an existing respiratory condition.
Moreover, she made clear that airborne pollution harms children more because their stature puts them in close proximity to street exhausts, typically breath more rapidly and their lungs are more sensitive. Importantly, respiratory diseases are only one part of the problem – cardiovascular conditions such as stroke and dementia can also be impacts by poor air quality. This evidence, when taken together, should make us consider air pollution the modern era’s asbestos/smoking equivalent.
Agreeing with Professor Frew, Dr Woods said that morbidity associated with air pollution should be more regularly examined. She said that air pollution can impact the life chances of children and that high pollution episodes can lead to COPD and asthma sufferers feeling afraid to go outside. These challenges present in the context of the highest ever recorded A&E attendance for respiratory issues in years.
Dr Woods closed by suggesting that the government consider a range of policies to mitigate the risks of air pollution. She suggested a three-part programme to set up a national framework to clean up our air. The first was an ambitious implementation of Clean Air Zones in cities across the UK, following by new legislation to deal with the problem in the form of a new Clean Air Act, all underpinned by a recognition that the protection of those vulnerable to air pollution must be prioritised.
The last of the speakers, Mike Holland, an independent consultant focusing on the economic assessment of environmental ills, opened by giving the history of the UK’s approach to air pollution, commenting that the original concern was acid rain. Following further research on health impacts of air pollution, the focus shifted from acid rain in the 1980s. By the time of the 1993 six cities study, as mentioned by Professor Frew, it was clear that health impacts build up over time in conditions exposed to air pollution.
The latest figures show that air pollution can increase infant mortality several percent and costs the UK economy £20bn, a figure which takes into account lost utility, productivity, NHS costs and early deaths. Mr Holland also stood by the 40,000 deaths figure from COMEAP, which is a lower figure that Defra originally estimated. Importantly, the COMEAP figure ignores VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and ozone so the figure could be higher still. The UK’s estimations are low compared to European and OECD studies and we are behind in analysing morbidity and lost productivity as a result of air pollution related illnesses.
In conclusion, Mr Holland said that a closer understanding of the interaction between climate policy and attempts to mitigate air pollution would be beneficial.
An extended Q&A session then began with MPs asking several questions of the panel. These focused on:
What councils could do to alleviate local air pollution;
How parliamentarians could help to bring the issue to the attention of the public without unduly frightening parents and sufferers of respiratory conditions;
The discrepancy in price between NOx and PM monitors and the use of these devices.
The panel responded that we need much more investment in active transport, that planning systems need to discourage rapid acceleration and braking (meaning consistent 20mph zones are preferable to speed bumps). The panel was conflicted about how to inform the public with some speakers standing by the 40,000 and others advising MPs not to deploy it.
Key messages from the panel during the stakeholder Q&A included:
Poorer people tend to be more vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution because historically, cheaper housing was downwind from factories, they have less access to green spaces, they tend to drive older vehicles and to smoke;
The evidence for air pollution actually causing asthma is weak but there is strong evidence that it does exasperate the condition once it is contracted;
There was some speculation about how effective central and local policy has been to tackle air pollution as many areas remain over the limit values.
The event closed with Matthew Pennycook looking forward to the group’s activities in the year ahead. He said that the group was planning a workshop on the expected Clean Air Zone consultation in April/May and that a meeting focused on technology options to alleviate air pollution could be expected later in the year. He also alluded to plans that the APPG is forming to contribute towards National Clean Air Day in June.
Mr Pennycook thanked those present for coming and closed the meeting.
Tomorrow is a big day in Parliament. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is due to give his spring budget. The budget is an opportunity for the government to announce the changes it is making to taxation and government spending. As is customary, the hour-or-so long speech the Chancellor makes will focus on the high-level policy levers that are being pulled to stimulate growth in the economy and balance public spending with income.
Almost as soon as the Chancellor’s speech ends and he sits down, however, the Treasury will release a long document that gives information on that place the Devil so regularly lives in – the Detail. It is here that we may expect to see more precise policy instruments and tax tweaks, and, perhaps, some of these will impact the sources of air pollution.
The associate members of the APPG on Air Pollution have advised the secretariat what they think would be included in a budget that would make an important step towards improving the UK’s air quality. Here’s what we’re hoping the Chancellor will announce:
Fuel taxation 1. Remove the fuel duty escalator on LPG – LPG canplay a useful role as a transition fuel enabling immediate reduction in vehicle pollution in advance of longer term switches to zero emission vehicles. For example, converting diesel taxis to run on LPG delivers a reduction in NOx of 80%, PM of 99% and CO2 of 7% meeting Euro 6 standards under real world testing and LPG can deliver NOx savings compared to Euro 6 diesel cars. On NOx, LPG is consistently lower than Euro 6 diesel cars. he duty escalator on LPG was introduced in 2003 via the Alternative Fuels Framework (AFF). The AFF provides the basis of the government’s approach to fuel taxation and it is this framework that labels LPG as more environmentally harmful than other alternative fuels. However the AFF is now 13 years old and does not take account current industry data, developments in technology and use of different fuels across different vehicle types. Ending the LPG escalator would result in limited lost revenue to the exchequer while promoting the use of LPG and sending a signal to vehicle manufacturers to aid the supply of forecourt ready LPG models.
Vehicle taxation 2. Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) – VED should factor in NOx and PM emissions when calculating VED bands. In addition no VED should be levied on Ultra Low Emission Vehicles for the first year.
3. Company car taxation – There should be a comprehensive review of the company car tax regime in order to incentivise the cleanest vehicles. If new diesel cars are to benefit from such an approach, the manufacturers must prove the emissions performance of vehicles under real world conditions.
Other issues 4. Scrappage scheme – There is merit in revisiting the vehicle scrappage concept as a means to accelerate the replacement of polluting vehicles and improve air quality. A scrappage scheme would have a financial cost, but this could be offset by changes to VED and company car tax structures, as well as from the reduced burden on the NHS resulting from improved health outcomes. To maximise the benefit in air quality terms, the scrappage scheme should target the replacement of older, pre-Euro 6c diesel cars and pre-Euro 3 petrol cars. The scheme should be targeted towards the purchase of vehicles with low NOx, PM and CO2 emissions. Consideration would be needed in terms of how the scrappage grants would interact with the existing grants available for electric vehicles (described below).
5. Local authority funding – DEFRA air pollution monitoring guidance should be amended to specify schools as priority sites for monitoring. In order to do this, it is essential that local authorities are properly resourced. A parliamentary question showed that £500,000 was allocated to local authorities to support their air quality improvement work for the 2015-16 period – a reduction of 50% since the previous year. We would therefore urge the Treasury to increase investment in this area so that local authorities are able to take necessary action on air pollution. Funding is also important for clean public transport and promotion of walking and cycling.
6. Enhanced Capital Allowances – The cleanest NRMM (Non-Road Mobile Machinery) generators (especially those using hybrid or zero emission systems thereby reducing their energy usage and therefore emissions) should be listed on the Energy Technology List for Enhanced Capital Allowances.