Air targets 'will be missed' as car pollution rises

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Britain will fail to hit its targets on air quality next year because of increasing traffic pollution which is expected to worsen significantly by the end of the decade.

Britain will fail to hit its targets on air quality next year because of increasing traffic pollution which is expected to worsen significantly by the end of the decade.

The head of the Government's expert group on air quality warned yesterday that people's health would suffer and some would die from respiratory problems caused by the failure to hit targets.

Professor Mike Pilling, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Leeds, said that London and other major cities would suffer most from the rise in dangerous emissions from car exhausts. "It's clear that we are not going to meet the objectives that the government has for air quality in 2005 and 2010," he told the Science Festival in Exeter.

"The objectives have been devised by medics ... on health grounds. London in particular is going to show widespread exceedances of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. The consequences are pretty obvious but the measures we need to take clearly relate to the activities we undertake, and especially these emissions are related to traffic, although not exclusively to traffic," he said.

About 2,000 people died last year as a result of the August heatwave and some 700 of the deaths were directly related to poor air quality caused by the interaction of exhaust gases with sunlight to produce photochemical smog.

Professor Pilling, who is the chairman of the government's Air Quality Expert Group, said that many of the people who died would have suffered from respiratory problems exacerbated by an increase in ozone - a constituent of photochemical smog when it occurs at ground level.

Since the Clean Air Act of 1956 air quality has improved dramatically, but in recent years dangerous pollutants associated with car exhausts have risen noticeably.

"There are compromises ahead but we're not going to meet the objectives laid down by our own government and by the EU which are designed to protect human health, which will inevitably suffer as a result," Professor Pilling said.

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