The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) has welcomed the reports by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on Air Quality and the IHPC review for Defra and the devolved administrations of Local Air Quality Management.

Both reports highlight problems in recent years in tackling vehicle traffic-related Particulates (PM10) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) with London and other parts of the UK likely to see failures to meet EU targets on both pollutants. The Environmental Audit Committee highlighted that up to 50,000 people may die prematurely in the UK each year because of poor air quality and clear political will and resources are required to improve this picture.

CIWEM believes that the Government has taken the wrong approach to tackling the problem, as well as failing to recognise the relevance of poor air quality in Britain today. National computer modelling has consistently predicted improvements in air pollution that have not materialised in practice.

Claire Holman, Chair of CIWEM’s Air Panel, says: “Defra have relied too much on cost benefit analysis, which has under-estimated the cost of poor air quality; and has made it difficult to justify measures such as Low Emission Zones. This is the wrong tool to use when there is a mandatory limit value to achieve. It would be better to use cost-effectiveness appraisal techniques to identify the cheapest package of measures to meet the limit values.”

Nick Reeves, CIWEM’s Executive Director says: “The UK has a long history of managing air pollution since the days when coal was widely used as a fuel and the 1956 Clean Air Act was a clear measure to improve a serious problem at the time. Traffic pollution is the modern day problem and needs equally radical action but there is a degree of complacency concerning air quality that must be removed. You only have to look at our roads clogged up with traffic belching out fumes to see the current situation is not sustainable. We need radical changes to transport policy. Not just to help tackle climate change, but also to address the immediate issue of local pollution shortening people’s lives.”

Water & Environment 2010: CIWEM’s Annual Conference will be held on 28th – 29th April at the Olympia Conference Centre, London.