Monday, 14 November 2011

Cutting Through The Smog

When I think of air pollution in cities reducing life expectancy by up to two years I imagine a Dickensian London with street urchins coughing in the smog. But a report out today by the Government's Environmental Audit Committee is saying that this is U.K. cities now, not 100 years ago.

The committee reports that despite commitments made in the coalition agreement the government is still failing to tackle the problem of air pollution, hasn't met the required EU standards for reductions and is now trying to avoid paying the fines for this by asking for another extension to 2015.

While the committee says that there has been "no meaningful evidence" of progress in meeting standards there has been progress in analysis the effects air pollution has on the population. Nationally the government accepts a shortening of life by 7-8 months due to air pollution but this could be as high as two years for those who are daily affected by the pollutants. In addition to this there is also the estimated £8.5-20 billion a year cost of caring for the health of those affected.

The main cause of the pollution is seen to be traffic from the many vehicles on the roads in built up urban areas. Recent research shows that tyres and brakes, as well as vehicle exhausts, are the culprits for high levels of airborne particles of dangerous chemicals and while some changes have been made (investment in bikes and age limits on black cabs in London) there is still so so much left to be done.

Now the latest government request to put back meeting EU targets until 2015 is being looked into by environmental lawyers ClientEarth. On their website ClientEarth say that they are an organisation of activist environmental lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet. Sounds pretty good considering the normal lawyer stereotypes. In response to today's report Alan Andrews, their air quality lawyer said, 
Under the banner of its localism agenda, the government is dumping the problem on local authorities who simply do not have the resources to tackle what is a national problem.
Once again we seem to be lacking that up beat news story about the "Greenest Government Ever" and how David Cameron, Caroline Spelman (Secretary of State for the Environment) and others are fighting the battles that desperately need to be won both for public health and  well-being and the greater environmental good. Still there's always tomorrow right?...

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