Thousands of parents to stage climate change protest as health secretary launches ‘dirty air’ study

Matt Hancock warns of growing national emergency caused by 'deadly poison' of air pollution

Conrad Duncan
Saturday 11 May 2019 17:17
Greta Thunberg says climate change message is 'clearly not getting through' in speech to MPs

Thousands of parents, grandparents and their families are expected to demand urgent action to tackle climate change on Sunday

TV presenter Konnie Huq, comedian Shappi Khorsandi and lawyer and activist Farhana Yamin will address crowds in central London at the Mothers Rise Up march on International Mothers’ Day.

The march comes after health secretary Matt Hancock named “dirty air” as the “largest environmental risk to public health in the UK” and warned of a growing national health emergency triggered by the “slow and deadly poison” of air pollution.

Mr Hancock announced on Saturday that he had commissioned Public Health England (PHE) to carry out a review of the impact of air pollution on the UK’s health.

He said: “We cannot underestimate the very real impact that dirty air – this slow and deadly poison – is having on our lives, our health and our NHS.”

The Mothers Rise Up march will be led by 11 11-year-olds to represent the 11-year window to act on climate change, set out by the world’s leading climate scientists in a landmark UN report last year.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, whose daughter Ella suffered a fatal asthma attack believed to have been linked to air pollution, said toxic air was fuelling a health crisis.

“I’m a mum from Lewisham fighting to get justice for my daughter Ella,” she said ahead of her speech at the march on Sunday.

“Business as usual – toxic pollution in our streets and our schools – is fuelling a crisis that is making our kids sick and it is families in the deprived areas that are paying the heaviest price.

“We need to urgently change course. We need to do everything necessary to clean up our air and create a safer future for all our children.”

Similar marches will be taking place across the county and internationally, with rallies in the Netherlands, Spain and Australia.

Ms Huq has urged governments to embrace environmentally-friendly investment projects.

“If they invest in renewable energy and regenerating our wild places, if they make it easier and cheaper to cycle or take the bus or train or insulate our homes – it will mean cleaner air, healthier lifestyles, and a safer future for us all,” the former Blue Peter presenter said.

Last year, PHE estimated there would be more than 2.4 million new cases of disease attributable to air pollution by 2035.

Its research found that coronary heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and child asthma all showed a strong association with air pollution.

The new review will include updated estimates for the number of new cases of disease that could be caused by dirty air by 2035, the Department of Health said.

It will also provide up-to-date modelling to identify how many cases of disease the government’s clean air strategy could prevent and where more attention could be placed, it added.

The clean air strategy, launched in January, set a long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter, as well as a commitment to halve the number of people living in areas breaching World Health Organisation guidelines on particulate matter by 2025.

Professor Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at PHE, said: “Air pollution is an urgent and serious threat to the public’s health which needs a range of interventions to tackle effectively.

“This commission will help us to calculate how much the clean air strategy will improve health and whether more is needed to tackle this major public health problem.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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