We all know that clean air is essential to keep us alive but we are only just beginning to understand the full effects of the links between some modern human activities and the harmful airborne pollutants they create.
Improving air quality is not a new issue. After the Second World War London experienced a winter smog (caused by coal fires and low air pressure) which resulted in such an extensive public health and economic crisis that it led to the introduction of a Clean Air Act. Legislation, along with the general deindustrialisation of the UK, has improved air quality over the last century but now the amount of road pollution and other industrial sources has resulted in calls to update methods to tackle modern airborne pollution.
What’s the problem?
It is estimated that 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK are linked with air pollution.
Air pollution can cause breathing problems, skin and eye irritation, and in more severe cases, or over a longer exposure period, lung and heart disease. It has also been shown to have detrimental impacts on our mental health and well-being.
Air pollutants are not just a threat to human health; they can also have adverse effects on plantlife and wildlife, leading to problems such as eutrophication of water bodies, acid rain, and habitat loss.
Where is it coming from?
Some of the main culprits which increase dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ammonia, and particular matter (PM10, PM2.5 and PM1) are:
– Road traffic
– Building and infrastructure construction
– Coal power stations
– Industrial production
Indoor air pollution is of particular concern as we spend the majority of our working and home lives indoors. Sources of indoor air pollution can include volatile organic compounds given off by metallic based paints, plastic fittings, and cleaning products.
What is being done?
So what are the national and local governments doing to protect our air? How are third sector groups taking steps to ensure future generations will inherit a clean, breathable world? And how can you get involved?
Read about current government consultations, third sector campaigns, and actions you can take below:
A Clean Air Zone Framework for Wales
Deadline: 19 June 2018
The Clean Air Zone Framework for Wales provides guidance to local authorities that are considering options to address local air quality issues. The reasons for reducing airborne pollution through Clean Air Zones include: reducing emissions to within legal limits bringing about improvements in the environment and delivering better health for all.
To find out more about the consultation please join our webinar – 08 June 2018.
Tackling Roadside Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations in Wales
Deadline: 19 June 2018
Welsh Government want your views on their supplemental plan to the ‘UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations 2017’. This plan aims to reduce nitrogen pollution to within statutory limits by targeting specific areas.
Cardiff’s Transport and Clean Air Green Paper
Deadline: 1 July 2018
“This Green Paper sets out our big ideas of changes we could make that we believe would improve transport and air quality in our city. They are all possible but we want to have a conversation with the people of Cardiff about the issues, and how changes could impact their lives because, ultimately, we will all need to shape our future together.” – Cllr Caro Wild, Cabinet Member for Transport and Strategic Planning.
Air quality: draft Clean Air Strategy
Deadline: 14 August 2018
The Clean Air Strategy affects a broad range of sectors and touches on the interests of many. The UK Governmentis consulting on each of the main themes of the strategy document:
- our understanding of the problem
- protecting the nation’s health and the environment
- securing clean growth and innovation
- reducing emissions from transport, farming, and industry
- international, national and local leadership
Some charities and organisations have been openly critical of the UK government’s slow reaction so far to dealing with air pollution and failing to meet EU directive targets for ‘safe’ pollutant levels. Campaigners have called for a UK network of Clean Air Zones, a ban on the most polluting vehicles, and a new Clean Air Act. To learn more about what third sector groups are doing to improve air quality, read on…
Client Earth – Healthy Air Campaign
The Healthy Air Campaign from Client Earth aims to encourage behaviour that helps cut air pollution and exposure. It does this through petitioning the government for bolder action on tackling air pollution, free resources to help people learn more about air pollution, and by creating a community network of clean air campaigners.
Friends of the Earth – Clean Air Campaign
The Clean Air Campaign from Friends of the Earth seeks to inform and empower the public to take action on air pollution. Their campaigns include petitioning the UK to ‘ditch diesel’ and helping people find out about local air quality levels.
Sustrans – Air Quality
Sustrans actively encourage walking and cycling to improve public health and air quality. They campaign for and have worked with local authorities to develop safer active travel infrastructure, and have developed a model to quantify the contribution of active travel methods to reducing air pollution.
What can you do?
– Respond to local and national government consultations (click on the relevant links from each heading)
– Reduce your car use and avoid flying. If you need to travel use cleaner forms of transport – walking and cycling have the added benefits of improving your health
– Order a clean air kit to monitor local air pollution levels and join up with local campaigners – it is important to get a clearer picture of air pollution levels so that we know which areas are particularly effected
– Plant some trees, shrubs, or flowers to help absorb airborne pollutants or put a pond in your garden to help soak up carbon. Don’t forget to put some air scrubbing plants in your indoor spaces too which has been shown to also heighten well-being even at work. You can boost your impact by joining up with a local community group to increase the greenery in your area
– If you need to do some DIY try to use natural based paints and avoid plastics where you can
– Use natural cleaning products to help avoid introducing more chemicals into your home – this can also reduce your plastic consumption
– Try to eat less meat and buy organic vegetables – red meat (beef, lamb, and pork) in particular is a source of methane, industrial chicken farming releases large amounts of ammonia, and artificial fertilizers for crops can pollute water bodies with excess nitrogen