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Sunday, 20 November 2011

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UK air pollution ‘puts lives at risk’

19 Nov. BBC

The government’s failure to meet EU standards on air pollution is “putting the health of UK residents at risk”, says the Environmental Audit Committee. Bad air quality costs the nation £8.5-20bn per year via poor health, it says, and can cut life expectancy by years. Continued failure to meet EU standards could result in swingeing fines. The committee says ministers’ “apparent tactic” to avoid fines is to ask the European Commission for repeated extensions rather than curb pollution.

The government’s latest request to the commission - to delay having to meet standards on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) until 2015 - is being taken to judicial review by environmental lawyers ClientEarth.

By some measures, the UK has been in breach of EU rules since 2005, the committee’s report notes.

It last reported on air pollution 18 months ago, and says that since then, there is “no meaningful evidence” to suggest progress towards meeting standards.

Yet evidence on the health impacts, it says, has become clearer.

Nationally, the government accepts that air pollution takes seven or eight months off Britons’ life expectancy. But for the 200,000 people most directly affected, the shortfall is two years.

“It is a national scandal that thousands of people are still dying from air pollution in the UK in 2011 - and the government is taking no responsibility for this,” said committee chair Joan Walley MP.

“It is often the poorest people in our cities who live near the busiest roads and breath in diesel fumes, dangerous chemicals and bits of tyre every day.”

Recent UK research indicated that tyres and brakes are a significant source of airborne particles, in addition to vehicle exhausts.

‘Not taken seriously’ On particulates, the UK is improving. Six years ago, eight places in the country exceeded EU standards.

Now, only London does; but the London picture is startling. EU regulations allow legal limits to be exceeded for 35 days per year. This year, the quota was reached in April.

A more problematic area is nitrogen dioxide. Currently, 40 out of 43 “assessment zones” across the country exceed the EU standard.

The government’s own projections, released in June, indicate that 17 will still be in breach in 2015, with Greater London taking even longer to clean up, despite the avowed intention of everyone connected with the Olympics to make them the “greenest games ever”.

Government plans for curbing NO2 pollution include financial incentives for switching haulage from road to rail, research on how retailers could deliver goods outside peak times, and differential pricing for vehicles emitting lower levels of pollutants.

 

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