UK is cheating on air quality laws and misleading the European Commission

This article originally featured on POLITICS HOME: 22 February 2012

Article by Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London. Simon Birkett has been presented with the London 2012 Sustainability Ambassadors Award for his outstanding contribution to achieving a truly sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games in particular for his focused commitment to tackling air quality, climate change and sustainability issues.  Camfil Farr is the first Gold Sponsor of Clean Air in London.

Simon Birkett Campaign for Clean Air LondonAir quality laws are breached every day by a factor or two or more along London’s busiest roads (and elsewhere).  No other public health or environmental standard is breached on such a large scale with such serious consequences for public health.

Clean Air in London (CAL) has therefore lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission (Commission) about the UK’s failure to comply with air quality laws.  ‘Part one’ of the Complaint is that: the UK obtained unlawfully a time extension to comply with the daily limit value for dangerous airborne particles (PM10) in London; and, without prejudice to that part of the Complaint, even if a time extension is sustained for the PM10 daily limit value, it was breached in Neasden Lane, London (again) in 2011.  ‘Part two’ of the Complaint is that: the UK breached the annual mean and hourly limit values for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in London and 16 other zones in 2010 (and 2011); and has not applied for a time extension for those zones (i.e. it submitted: plans for 23 zones in September 2011 under Article 22 of Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe; and plans for London and 16 other zones under Article 23).

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Invisible air pollution: the biggest public health failing for decades

This article originally featured on POLITICS HOME: 11 January 2012

Article by Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London. Simon Birkett has been presented with the London 2012 Sustainability Ambassadors Award for his outstanding contribution to achieving a truly sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games in particular for his focused commitment to tackling air quality, climate change and sustainability issues.  Camfil Farr is the first Gold Sponsor of Clean Air in London.

Air pollution is much worse than most of us have realised. It regularly exceeds twice World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and legal limits near our busiest roads in London and elsewhere. Only smoking causes more early deaths than air pollution in the UK.
Simon Birkett Campaign for Clean Air LondonIn December 2009, ‘Clean Air in London’ (CAL) accused the previous Government of one of the biggest public health failings or ‘cover-ups’ by a Government in modern history.  Perhaps amazingly given the seriousness of the accusation, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has twice since confirmed CAL’s findings.  In CAL’s view, the current Government is still failing to warn people and may be misleading them with statistics such as: “air pollution has declined significantly in recent decades”; “air quality is good across 99% of the UK”; and “air pollution still reduces life expectancy by an average of six months”.

Let’s rewind.  Ambient or outdoor air pollution comprises particles and gases.  The particles, which can comprise anything from tiny droplets to diesel soot and tyre and brakewear, are called ‘particulate matter’ and classified by their aerodynamic diameter in microns (one-millionth of a metre (ug/m3) which is about one-hundredth of the thickness of a human hair) e.g. PM2.5 and PM10.  The gases, which can coalesce and become particles, are mainly nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3) and sulphur dioxide (SO2).

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