Friends of the Earth will now ask the European Commission to take legal proceedings against ministers. The pressure group argues that they have breached a 1992 directive which requires the government to provide accurate information on ozone pollution. Ozone is one of the pollutants linked to the asthma epidemic, which now affects one in seven British children.
Our investigation shows that the 31 official monitoring stations, scattered throughout the UK, last year recorded 358 breaches of the World Health Organisation's standard for ozone pollution (50 parts per billion over an eight hour period). But the Department of Environment's public information service, which has a telephone helpline, reported on 328 of these occasions that air quality was "good". It described the air as "poor" only 30 times.
This is because the Department refuses to raise the alarm over ozone pollution until it reaches 90 parts per billion. EU law then requires it to warn the public. But there is mounting evidence that far lower levels of the pollution damage health.
Fiona Weir, senior air pollution campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "People have a right to know the truth about pollution levels which threaten their health. Ministers must stop giving misleading information and we are determined to see that they are called to account."
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