Monday, September 07, 2020

England's Filthy Air

Almost 60 per cent of people in England are living in areas where levels of toxic air pollution exceeded legal limits last year. Legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a toxic gas that inflames airways in the human respiratory system – were broken in 142 local authorities in 2019, potentially affecting as many as 33 million people in total. The figures represent a longstanding failure for successive governments to get to grips with air pollution.  Air pollution is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths every year,

This includes groups particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, including 7 million children and 5.5 million people over 65 years old.  

Most of NO2 comes from road travel, according to the UK’s Air Pollution Information System. In total, about 2.2 million tonnes of NO2 is generated in the UK each year. Of this, about half is from motor vehicles, a quarter is from power stations, and the rest is attributable to other industrial and domestic sources. 

Previous studies have found that those most affected by poor air quality are disproportionately people living in deprived areas – potentially leading to a disproportionate impact on people from minority ethnic groups, which in turn could be a factor in the higher rates of coronavirus deaths among those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Dr Suzanne Bartington, clinical research fellow in environmental health at the University of Birmingham, said, “We know this issue is affecting those areas of higher socioeconomic deprivation, with poorer housing and air quality very much a part of that.”

The prevalence of illegal levels of pollution across the country “makes for quite a frightening story”, according to Professor Stephen Holgate, the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on air quality. He told The Independent that the research “really shines a spotlight on the extent of this problem”.

“There’s been a lot of focus on London, but this is a large number of local authorities, and a number of these aren’t in the big cities, but other areas of England,” he said. “It shows that this is a problem across the whole of England and it’s not just a city issue. People living in these places need to know that their local area is affected by pollution.” 

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, an advocate for clean air for the World Health Organisation and whose daughter Ella’s death from asthma became the first to be officially linked to illegal levels of air pollution, said she was “stunned” by the figures.

“A lot of children are living in areas with illegal air pollution and it’s affecting their lungs,” she told The Independent. “There are families up and down the country that are being heavily impacted by air pollution, and it shouldn’t be that way. It shows that we as a family were not unique...Can you imagine if our water was that filthy? People would be out marching in the streets.”

No comments: