Air pollution is a forgotten public health crisis

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Poor air quality has been found to cause 29,000 premature deaths in the UK each year. Meanwhile the Government is failing to recognize the impact of its policies on air quality and is still failing to meet European targets for safe air pollution limits across many parts of the country. In response, CIWEM is pleased to announce it has joined as a partner in the Healthy Air Campaign to raise awareness of this forgotten crisis.

The Healthy Air Campaign is a coalition of NGOs tackling the public health crisis caused by air pollution. The aim is to encourage behavior that helps cut air pollution and exposure to it and persuade the government to take action so the UK complies fully with international air quality law.

The impacts of air pollution on public health have long been known, yet the Government has failed to introduce measures to meet European targets for air quality. Instead multimillion pound infraction fines from the EU for failing these targets could be passed on to Local Authorities under new powers introduced by the Localism Act.

Next year responsibility for public health will transfer to local authorities, with each setting up its own Health and Wellbeing Board. Local authorities would potentially have infraction fines to pay at the same time as suffering from budget cuts. CIWEM is concerned that without raising the profile of air quality, it could easily become lost beneath the plethora of problems local authorities will also need to tackle, such as teenage pregnancy, obesity and fuel poverty; the effects of which are more obvious.

Paradoxically measures for improving air quality are often unpopular with the electorate. Transport causes the most exposure to harmful air pollutants, and air quality targets would never be met without a significant shift in transport policy. This is where the Healthy Air campaign can make a difference. A more aware public would create the drive needed and the impetus for politicians to introduce the necessary measures.

CIWEM’s Executive Director, Nick Reeves OBE, says: “Ten years ago we thought most of our local air quality problems would be solved by now. Today we know better. Road transport remains the main culprit and we need political commitment to the issue to improve. The government should not forget that a public health crisis has significant impacts on the economy. I am hopeful that the Healthy Air Campaign along with CIWEM’s support can bring the issue to the attention of the public, the media, and politicians. The Government needs to put the health of the nation first and take responsibility for educating the public about the health risks from poor air quality, and about how they could limit their exposure to it.”

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) is an independent professional body and a registered charity, advancing the science and practice of water and environmental management for a clean, green and sustainable world

CIWEM’s air quality activities are run through its Air technical panel. For more information please visit:

Healthy Air is a coalition of NGOs led by ClientEarth including Asthma UK, the Campaign for Better Transport, Clean Air in London, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Environmental Protection UK, Friends of the Earth, Living Streets, Sustrans and the London Sustainability Exchange. For more information please visit:

Let me say that it is about time that we considered, once again, other pollutants and emissions that (just) carbon dioxide. CO2 is not so much a problem in our cities and towns, and to our health in general, but other pollutants are.

However, over the last decade or so all the energy has been put to CO2 and that, basically, because CO2 (carbon) can be traded and we have devised new indulgences in the form of various carbon certificates and such like.

Already in the 1960s and 1970s the Hippie Movement, which basically brought about the Green Movement, was talking about our need to reduce air pollution and as a result, so I would say, lead was removed from gasoline and the London smog became a thing of the past due to areas becoming smokeless zones.

On the other hand, as soon as the CO2 issue came about, other air pollutions and -pollutants were swept under the carpet, even though, maybe, not literally. The issue did not go away and the pollutants became more dangerous though less visible and smellable. But then you can't trade in them...

© 2012

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