Europe steps up drive for cleaner air

The elimination of the notorious “pea-souper” London smog, through far reaching clean air regulation, has quite literally cleared the atmosphere across “the Smoke”, but the campaign continues to achieve ever higher standards of clean air across the UK and Europe overall, with the EU setting its sights on adopting the first integrated clean air strategy in 2004/05

The 50th anniversary of the Great London Smog of December 1952 which led to the introduction of the pathfinding Clean Air Act of 1956 was marked by Defra Air Quality Minister Alun Michael visiting one of the capital’s 80 air pollution monitoring stations and declaring: “Air quality is getting better, and the number of days of poor air quality each year continues to fall. But we need to go further.”

Mr Michael said: “We have set ourselves challenging targets for ultra-clean vehicles and fuels. For example, our Powering Future Vehicles strategy pledges that 10% of new cars are to be ultra-low carbon by 2012. This will be a major step forward.”

Less sanguine, however, over progress on the air quality front is the National Society for Clean Air (NSCA) which says that air pollution could be killing twice as many people as official estimates.

The NSCA, which has published a report, The Clean Air Revolution: 1952 –2052, providing both history of air pollution issues over the last 50 years and a look into the future for the most significant problems and their likely solutions, has called on the Government to increase its efforts to combat air pollution.

Whilst acknowledging that “the pea souper smogs are a thing of the past”, Richard Mills, Secretary General of the NSCA says “but emerging health evidence shows that new sources of pollution provide a continuing threat, and official figures may seriously under-estimate the level of death and illness.”

NSCA is calling on the Government to:

  • reassess the health impacts of air pollution
  • maintain downward pressure on pollution levels across the whole country
  • include greenhouse gases in local air quality action plans

    “We accept that levels of many pollutants are on the downward trend,” Mr Mills continued. “But it is clear that many of us are having our life shortened by continuing exposure to air pollutants. Even on a conservative estimate, air pollution is killing 10 times more people than road accidents every year. As individuals we must all take responsibility to reduce our contribution to pollution.”

    European report

    A study produced by Apheis (Air Pollution and Health: A European Information System) adds weight to NSCA’s case, showing that “air pollution continues to pose a significant threat to public health in urban environments in Europe despite tighter emission standards, closer monitoring of air pollution and decreasing levels of certain types of air pollutants.”

    The Apheis programme is funded by the EC’s Health and Consumer Protection DG. The new report sets out findings of a health impact assessment of particulate air pollution it conducted in 26 cities in 12 European countries during 2001.

    Levels of particulate air pollution, including PM10 and black smoke, vary widely across Europe. The annual average levels in Apheis cities range from 14 to 73 µg/m3 for PM10 and from 8 to 66 µg/m3 for black smoke.

    Numerous studies conducted in Europe and other parts of the world, says Apheis, have shown that such pollution levels constitute a health risk. The report demonstrates that reducing these levels, even by a small amount, could produce significant benefits to public health.

    Looking to the future, the EU has recently published details of its Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) programme of technical analysis and policy development which will lead to the adoption of a thematic strategy under the Sixth Environmental Action Programme in 2004.

    The programme was launched in March 2001, with the aim of developing a long-term, strategic and integrated policy to protect against the effects of air pollution on human health and the environment. The intention is that CAFE will develop into a five-year policy cycle, with the first integrated clean air strategy being adopted in 2004-05.

    This strategy would involve:

    • a review of the implementation of air quality directives and effectiveness of air quality programmes in the member states
    • improving the monitoring of air quality and the provision of information to the public, including by indicators
    • priorities for further actions, the review and updating of air quality thresholds and national emission ceilings and the development of better systems for gathering information, modelling and forecasting

    Industrial plant regulation

    Defra has completed its consultation on air fees/charges for 2003-04 for local authority environmental regulation of industrial plant. Defra has proposed that there should be no increase in the level of fees and charges for Local Air Pollution Control (LAPC)/Local Air Pollution Prevention and Control (LAPPC) apart from the possibility of a very small increase to cover the cost of producing the guidance notes.

    A key element in the regulation of emissions is the range of monitoring equipment installed within industrial and other plants providing data for to environmental health departments and the Environment Agency.

    MCerts approval is a key element in the operation of such equipment and Servomex reports that its established 4900 series continuous emissions analyser, already TUV approved for key measurements, has been granted MCerts approval for the analysis of O2, CO, NO and SO2 in flue gases.

    Specifically designed for the continuous emissions monitoring (CEM) market, the 4900 analyser can be supplied with sensors to measure up to four different gases simultaneously in samples of flue gases. Sensors can be supplied for O2, CO, CO2, NO, SO2, CH4 and N2O. Measurements of oxygen are carried out using the Servomex paramagnetic cell, which is stated to be fast, linear, accurate, highly stable and non-depleting. Measurements of other gases are made using Servomex single beam, gas filter correlation photometric technology.

    Software common to all the Servomex 4000 series gas analysers gives the 4900 auto calibration as standard, which can also be configured for each measurement independently.

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