2 The current situation |
8. A range of significant findings on the health
risks of air pollution have emerged since the previous Committee
reported. In December 2010, the Committee on the medical effects
of air pollution (COMEAP), the Government's advisory body on this
issue, published a report on the Mortality Effects of Long-Term
Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution in the UK.
This presented the results of calculations of mortality in 2008.
The burden of particulate air pollution (specifically PM2.5) was
estimated to be an effect equivalent to about 29,000 deaths, or
a loss of life expectancy from birth of 6 months. COMEAP speculated
that it was reasonable to consider that air pollution may have
made at least some contribution to the earlier deaths of up to
200,000 people (the number dying of cardiovascular causes) with
an average loss of life of about two years. COMEAP also reported,
in November 2010 that, as well as exacerbating asthma in those
already having the condition, air pollution might also play a
role in the induction of new cases of asthma amongst those living
close to busy roads with a lot of lorry traffic.
9. Aphekom, a European research project co-funded
by the European Commission, reported its findings in 2011. It
estimated that exceeding WHO guidelines for exposure to fine particulate
matter in 25 European cities with a total of 39 million inhabitants
resulted in health costs of 31.5 billion a year. The study
also concluded that those living near main roads in cities could
account for some 15-30% of all new cases of asthma in children
and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and coronary heart disease
in adults 65 years of age and older. Aphekom further estimated
that 15-30 per cent of exacerbations of these illnesses are attributable
to air pollution.
Research has also shown, that in the very short-term, poor air
quality can increase the risk heart attack in those susceptible.
10. Initial findings of research by Imperial
College and environmental research groups in the Netherlands suggest
that poor air quality is hitting the poorest hardest. That research
is examining the associations, at a local level, between air pollution
and socio-economic groups. Preliminary findings for the Netherlands,
presented in September 2011, indicated that pollution levels
increased with higher degrees of urbanization, higher numbers
of non-western immigrants and lower house prices;
while preliminary results for England indicated that poor air
quality is associated with areas of low income, low employment
and low educational attainment, with differences in exposure to
air pollution between different ethnic groups. Several other studies
have also shown that elevated levels of pollution are concentrated
amongst socially deprived neighbourhoods.
11. The main cost of air pollution arises from
these adverse health effects on people. Defra's Air Quality Strategy
estimates that the health impact of man-made particulate air pollution
experienced in the UK in 2005 cost between £8.5 billion and
£20.2 billion a year. These figures were calculated by the
Interdepartmental Group on Costs and Benefits (which includes
Defra, the Department of Health and the Department for Transport)
using a survey of people's willingness to pay for avoiding the
adverse health effects of air pollution.
12. In our current inquiry Defra told us that
substantial progress has been made in quantifying and understanding
the health and ecosystem impacts of air pollution as a result
of recent reports from COMEAP and Defra's publication of the National
Ecosystems Assessment, which puts values on ecosystems services.
13. Air pollution also causes significant damage
to the environment. Our predecessor Committee reported that ozone
reduces the yield of wheat grown in southern Britain by 5-15%.
Sixty percent of sensitive habitats exceed the critical load for
nitrogen, of which atmospheric pollution is a major cause. The
Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Countryside Council for Wales,
Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage told us that oxides
of nitrogen (NOX) harms UK biodiversity and is compromising
our ability to deliver current conservation commitments such as
the objective to achieve favourable conservation status under
the Habitats Directive.
14. European policies aim to improve air quality
by reducing exposure to air pollution. The EU sets legally binding
concentration limit values for specific air pollutants, which
are also reflected in the UK's national air quality objectives.
The UK is still not meeting EU limit values or UK objectives for
PM10 particulate matter and NO2 and is predicted by
some to fail to meet targets for fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
15. Since 2005 the UK has reported exceeding
PM10 limit values in 8 zones, though these are now only exceeded
in London. In April 2009 the Government submitted an application
to seek exemption, as provided under EU law, from the obligation
to comply with PM10 targets until 2011.
The application was accepted. Under European Union air quality
laws daily pollution levels of PM10 must not be above the legal
limit on more than 35 days in a year. The Campaign for Clean Air
in London reported that by 21 April London had already exceeded
this target for 2011; the worst performance in 8 years.
16. The now-extended deadline for commencing
compliance with the EU limit values for PM10 was 11 June 2011.
A number of short term measures have been introduced at 'hot spots'
in London to reduce PM10 levels and achieve EU targets, while
longer-term measures in the Mayor's Air Quality Strategy are being
implemented. These short-term measures include re-routing the
most polluting buses and spraying roads with adhesives to suppress
Despite these measures PM10 daily limit values are still being
exceeded (at the time of publication 48 exceedences had been reported).
There is still much to be
done to resolve the situation in London. The Olympics Delivery
Authority has made a commitment to holding the greenest Olympics
ever, but we note that it is proving difficult to for the Mayor
to make the required policy trade-offs and achieve acceptable
levels of air quality. We welcome Defra's consultation to invite
views on the short-term measures that have been adopted in London,
but the fact that these measure have had to be used clearly indicates
that air quality is not being addressed in the long-term. Further
measures must address the causes of air pollution and must be
more credible than spraying the roads with adhesive.
17. EPUK told us that to date little attention
has been given by the Government to 2020 targets for PM2.5.
A recent report, PM2.5 in the UK, by the Scottish and Northern
Ireland Forum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER) concluded that
the challenge of meeting PM2.5 targets is greater than
previously anticipated, and that control strategies for PM2.5
may need to be significantly different to those used for
PM10 and that further research is required to understand all its
18. Defra regard meeting EU limits for NO2
in areas exceeding targets as presenting a much more significant
challenge than PM10, requiring additional action to limit emissions
from transport in many urban areas across the UK.
The limits for NO2 came into force in January 2010.
For 2010 40 of the 43 UK air quality assessment zones did not
On 9 June 2011 Defra launched a consultation on an application
under EU law to postpone the compliance date for NO2
limits until 2015. As Client Earth and the Chartered Institute
of Water and Environmental Management pointed out, Defra's consultation
document shows that compliance will not be achieved in 17 of 43
zones by 2015, even under a best case scenario. As such, they
argued, it would be difficult to see how an extension could be
granted, and Client Earth is now seeking judicial review of the
The 30 air quality plans for England were amended following the
consultation and, along with 10 plans covering Scotland, Wales
and Northern Ireland, were submitted with the application for
an extension to the European Commission on 26 September 2011.
19. Some organisations have suggested that the
Government is hoping that the EU will reduce limit value thresholds
for NO2 on the back of pressure from the UK and other
Member States that are also failing to meet targets. An EU review
of air quality legislation is required by 2013.
The Minister did not accept that the Government were hoping that
EU limits would be "watered down", but conceded that:
We still would like to get there but I think it is
very unlikely. Therefore, we need to negotiate with the Commission
about where we are going, how we are going to get there and what
the timescale should be [...]
20. EU limit values are health-based standards
set by Technical Working Groups of international experts set up
by the European Commission, and are consistent with WHO guidance.
Since these values were set, the evidence base for the health
effects of poor air quality has grown rather than weakened. As
such we can see no circumstances in which a delay in achieving
these targets or a lessening of these targets would be acceptable.
Any delay or lessening would simply put more lives a risk. We
see a case for arguing that fines would not be appropriate if
the means for delivering them is not available, but this case
has not yet been adequately made. The Government must set out
how it intends to achieve EU targets. It must say, in its response
to this report, whether or not it intends to push for less stringent
targets when air quality legislation is reviewed in 2013. Its
apparent tactic of avoiding EU fines by applying for extensions
to limit value targets, with an expectation that target values
will be diluted in the near future, is putting the health of UK
residents at risk.
21. Applications for compliance
extensions which lack sufficient policy measures to back them
up could result in unlimited fines from the European Commission.
The Government must now embark on a strategy that aims to achieve
air quality targets.
22. Defra's consultation for an extension to
meet EU NO2 limit values states that Greater London
compliance is not expected to be achieved before 2025.
EU air quality limits for NO2 are not met at Heathrow and the
surrounding area. DfT recognises that aircraft engine emissions,
airport operations and road transport to and from airports contributes
to NO2 pollution near airports.
In the event of a third
runway being developed at Heathrow, compliance with NO2
limits would be impossible. The
Government has made clear their opposition to a third runway at
Heathrow and BAA announced in May 2010 that it had stopped work
on a planning application for such a proposal. However,
for the Government to make the case that compliance with EU air
quality limits throughout Greater London will be maintained beyond
2015, their application for an extension to meet EU limit values,
the forthcoming Sustainable Framework for UK Aviation and the
forthcoming Aviation National Policy Statement must contain an
explicit prohibition of a third runway at Heathrow.
12 COMEAP, The Mortality Effects of Long-Term Exposure
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Fischer P, de Hoogh K, Marra M, Kruize H, Hoek G, Beelen, Vienneau
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Pollution and Socio-Economic Characteristics in the Netherlands
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Goodman A, Wilkinson P, Staffor M, Tonne C, Characterising
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