Government urged to include WHO air quality limits in Environment Bill

Evidence suggests that between 28,000 and 36,000 people will die each year as a result of air pollution

Daisy Dunne
Environment Correspondent
Tuesday 26 January 2021 06:11
<p>Air pollution from cars and the burning of fuels is a major contributor to premature death in the UK</p>

Air pollution from cars and the burning of fuels is a major contributor to premature death in the UK

A group of politicians, campaigners and charities is calling on the government to amend the Environment Bill to include air quality limits that are in line with those recommended by the World Health Organisation.

MPs will debate proposed amendments to the Environment Bill in parliament on Tuesday.

A cross-party group has proposed an amendment to the bill to include legal limits on air pollution that are in step with WHO guidelines.

Evidence suggests that between 28,000 and 36,000 people will die each year as a result of air pollution in the UK.

History was made last month when an inquest found that air pollution contributed to the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah.

Conservative politician Neil Parish has proposed an amendment to the Environment Bill that would require the UK to achieve WHO guideline limits for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 2030. Labour politicians have also put forward a similar amendment.

Luke Pollard, shadow environment secretary, told The Independent: “It is shameful that millions of children are growing up in areas with illegal levels of air pollution, but still the government refuses to act.

“Labour’s amendment to the environment bill is vital to clean up our air and protect people’s health, and we urge the Conservatives to support it tomorrow.”

PM2.5 refers to tiny particles more than 100 times thinner than human hair that are released by vehicle exhausts and through the burning of fuels, as well as through natural factors.

The current legal limit for PM2.5 in the UK is twice as high as that recommended by experts at the WHO, said Harriet Edwards, senior policy and projects manager for air quality at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.

She told The Independent: “These tiny, toxic particles are the most worrying for our health as they are able to travel deep into our lungs and around our bodies. Although it’s harmful for everyone, it disproportionately impacts certain groups, including the very young, older people, and people with lung conditions such as asthma.”

In its current form, the Environment Bill commits to bringing new targets for PM2.5 before parliament by October 2022. However, it does not commit to putting forward targets that are in line with WHO limits and does not dictate a timescale for adoption.

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, mother of Ella and air pollution campaigner, told The Independent: “The Environment Bill, in its current form, does not require that mandatory health-based limits are set. This falls short of what is required for public safety.

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah holds her mobile phone displaying a photograph of her daughter Ella

“It is imperative that MPs back the amendments to the bill to set a mandatory target for air pollution based on WHO limits, and that these targets be legally binding and enforceable.

“To do so is the only way for this bill to be effective and for it to protect families from the impact of air pollution in the future.”

Jemima Hartshorn, founder of the London-based campaign group Mums for Lungs, added: “For over a decade many parts of the UK have been suffering from illegal and toxic levels of air pollution.

“Tens of thousands of people are dying every year prematurely of air pollution and many more are falling sick with illnesses such asthma, cancer, Alzheimer’s.

“We need strong leadership from the government to address air pollution and the first step is for the WHO-guideline limits to be enshrined in the Environment Bill.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Through our landmark Environment Bill we are committing to set a new target on PM2.5 – the most damaging pollutant to human health – alongside a further long-term target on air quality. As part of this we will be considering the WHO guidelines for PM2.5.

“This builds on our Clean Air Strategy which the WHO has praised as ‘an example for the rest of the world to follow’. We are already taking urgent action by phasing out sales of the most polluting solid fuels for burning at home and delivering our £3.8bn plan to clean up transport and tackle NO2 [nitrogen dioxide] pollution.”

Campaign groups are also calling for legally binding plastics reduction targets to be included in the bill following a separate amendment tabled by Conservative MP Chris Loder.

In a statement, Mr Loder said: “The government has made great strides towards tackling the scourge of plastic pollution. My amendment takes this further.

“We generate so much plastic waste here in the UK that it needs to be shipped abroad, whilst supermarkets and large retailers have no requirement to reduce their excessive plastic usage. Now is the time to get a grip of plastic pollution, once and for all.”

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