Report finds UK air contains dangerous levels of pollutants

An air particle emitted by diesel engines that poses a serious threat to public health is present at dangerous levels in the UK, respiratory physiotherapists have warned this week.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), any exposure to the pollutant, known scientifically as PM10, could prove to be dangerous and there is no safe exposure limit.

However, a report published by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) has revealed high levels of PM10 across the UK, with an average of 23.3 micrograms of the pollutant present in every cubic metre of our air.

London's Marylebone Road come out as the worst, with 43 micrograms to each cubic metre, and Camden came second with 32, but it was not just London with very high levels of PM10, as Port Talbot in Wales notched up 31, putting it in third place.

Readings of between 27 and 30 were also recorded in part of Lancashire, Bradford's town centre and in Glasgow.

Exposure to the pollutant can cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, the report stated, and health consequences for those suffering from lung diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema could be far more serious.

Tokyo has already responded to the WHO's warning by considering banning vehicles with certain types of engines in built up areas, as well as calling on car manufacturers to ensure diesel engines become cleaner.

The CSP is now urging the British government to follow suit.

"Respiratory physios are dealing with patients being harmed by this pollutant, and the CSP wants action," CSP chair of council Grahame Pope stated. "The UK government must accept the WHO position that there is no safe exposure limit, diesel manufacturers must produce engines with zero PM10 emissions, and local authorities should follow the Japanese example by banning these vehicles from built up areas."

Clinical specialist in respiratory physiotherapy, Amanda Dryer told edie that action now needed to be taken to reduce PM10 as the health implications of doing nothing were worrying.

"For those with existing lung problems, PM10 can increase inflammation, predispose patients to infection and irritate their symptoms," she explained. "However, research now shows that these pollutants can also cause a deterioration of lung function in healthy people as well."

Dr Dryer said that one key solution was for the government to improve public transport to tackle emissions from cars, and industrial pollution needed to be more heavily regulated, but that everyone could help to make a difference to air quality in the UK.

"We must all act as catalysts proactively and reduce the damage that these pollutants are doing to all of us, making small steps such as using our cars less" she continued. "It is the smaller contributions that can help lead to really big results."

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone also praised the CSP report for highlighting these serious issues, stating that he thoroughly supported their campaign.

"London has long suffered the worst air quality in the country, with air pollution estimated to cause 1,600 premature deaths every year," he stated. "I am proud that London is leading the way in trialling zero emission fuel cell buses (see related story) and we have recently announced strict new emissions standards for London's black cabs."

"By the end of this mayoral term we will declare the whole of Greater London a low emission zone, banning the most polluting lorries, coaches and buses from the capital, taking radical steps towards tackling air pollution."

A spokesperson from Defra told edie that the government was already working to reduce emissions, including PM10, and that their figures showed the long-term trend was towards better air quality, despite the findings from the CSP report:

"The government takes air quality seriously and we monitor air pollution levels closely, but there is still more work to do to achieve even cleaner air, including for particulate matter (PM), and this will require local national and international action."

Local authorities now had action plans in place to tackle pollution hotspots, and the government had introduced tighter controls on industrial emissions, she added.

"Defra is currently reviewing the Air Quality strategy and the UK Climate Change Programme to see what can be done to make faster progress on air quality targets, including those for PM10," she said. "Along with the European Commission, our objective is to achieve levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on and risks to human health, as well as the environment."

By Jane Kettle



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