NEWS: Government must take ‘urgent action’ on air pollution, say doctors

The government must establish a new Clean Air Act to tackle the growing crisis of air pollution and its impacts on people’s health, a leading medical body has urged.

In the follow up report to the 2016 study Every Breath we take, published by the Royal College of Physicians, it finds no change in the levels of pollution or the toll it’s taking on vulnerable people’s lives.

A total of 44 out of 51 UK cities breached the World Health Organisation’s recommended limit value for cancer causing particulate matter PM2.5, according to RCP and the Lancet’s analysis last year.

There are still 40,000 deaths attributable each year due to exposure to outdoor air pollution, with asthma, cancer and heart disease all the main reported conditions it is linked to.

Though the government has taken ‘positive’ steps such as banning sales of diesel and petrol cars by 2040, the RCP say action is needed now to deliver urgent health benefits.

“In the two years which have passed, the scale of the air pollution crisis has largely been recognised, as has the need for action at national and local level. However, the immediate and robust action needed to tackle this crisis has not materialised,” says the report.

It says the government’s 2017 air quality plan was a ‘missed opportunity’ and that the fight for clean air must not be lost in the process of leaving the EU.

Finding from the latest RCP report which analyses the cost to society and health of air pollution

As well as calling for a new Clean Air Act – a move backed by a new cross-cutting inquiry published on 15 March by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – the RCP has called on the government to:

  • Commit to new and ambitious targets for reduction in air pollution based on World Health Organization guidelines
  • Empower local authorities to protect public health when air pollution levels are high. When these limits are exceeded, local authorities must have the power to close or divert roads to reduce the volume of traffic, especially near schools
  • Require national agencies and local authorities to protect those most at risk and to reduce exposure to air pollution among vulnerable groups such as children, older people and those with pre-existing health conditions.
  • Gather local and national data on air pollution in major urban areas and near schools and distribute the data publicly through smog warnings and other methods, in a clear way that everyone can understand.

Commenting on recommendations in both the inquiry and the RCP report, RCP’s special adviser on air quality, Professor Stephen Holgate, said:The findings demonstrate that the government has a clear responsibility to take urgent action on the dangerously harmful levels of air pollution in the UK. 

“We are determined to ensure that air quality should not be at risk following the UK’s departure from the EU.”

Reducing air pollution in the UK: Progress report 2018 here