European particle accelerator: plans to reduce key air pollutants

Publishing the results of a wide-ranging review of the UK National Air Quality Strategy, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced plans to speed up action to reduce key air pollutants.

The strategy sets objectives for 2005 for the eight air pollutants which have the greatest impact on health. The aim of the review has been to look at the prospects for meeting those objectives sooner, or introducing tougher health-based objectives where feasible and justified.

Mr Prescott is proposing to to tighten objectives for five of the eight pollutants in the strategy, and to leave things as they are for two.

Tougher indicative level

For benzene, 1,3-butadiene and carbon monoxide, the date for achieving the objectives is to be brought forward from 2005 to 2003. A new tougher indicative level will also be set for benzene. For lead, the date for achieving the objective is to be brought forward from 2005 to 2004, and a new tougher objective will be set for 2008. For nitrogen dioxide, the annual objective is not to be changed, but the hourly objective will be tightened. Present evidence suggests that the annual objective will be very challenging, in particular in London, and will be examined again in two years’ time when more information is available.

For ozone and sulphur dioxide, the objectives are to remain unchanged.

“For the last, particles,” said Prescott, “we recognise that we cannot deliver the reductions which are essential on our own. Because our air is affected by pollution from the continent, we need to work with our European partners to drive levels down.”

This view has been supported by the publication of a report, Source Apportionment of Airborne Particulate Matter in the United Kingdom, prepared by the Airborne Particles Expert Group, chaired by Professor Roy Harrison of the University of Birmingham. It states that the existing air quality standard for particles within the National Air Quality Strategy (50µg/m3 as a 24 hour running mean, to be achieved by the year 2005, four days exceedence allowed) will not be achieved with existing policies, and that exceedences are worst in years characterised by frequent air movements from Europe.

Decreasing levels

Commenting on the report, Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, said: “Levels of airborne particles are decreasing – but not fast enough. The report has shown that this is not a problem the UK can solve on its own. The work of the Expert Group means that the UK is well ahead of the game in understanding this complex issue. We now intend to discuss with our European partners how best this issue can be taken forward.”

Ministers and officials will be raising the findings of the Group and pressing for concerted EU action at the forthcoming Environment Council meeting and at European conferences.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie