Government raises targets for air pollution

The Government has announced new targets for four key air pollutants in England – with a new target for particulates that is 50% higher than current objectives, although targets for particulates are lower for London.


Carbon monoxide, benzene and particulates are all to have their targets raised, and for the first time there is to be a target for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, following a consultation at the end of last year.

Announcing the new targets, Environment Minister Michael Meacher noted that air quality is improving, particularly over the last few years through measures to cut emissions from industry and traffic. He announced in March of this year that urban air quality in the UK in 2000 was the best it had been since 1993 (see related story).

However, he stated that there is no room for complacency following recent evidence that air pollution can cause premature death, particularly from heart disease (see related story and related story).

“Further action is needed to cut air pollution levels, in particular in our congested towns and cities, which continue to have significant impact on our health,” said Meacher.

Commenting on the slightly lower targets for the capital city, the Minister stated that they take account of the markedly higher levels of air pollution in London compared to the rest of the country (see related story). “But we have set separate objectives for London in the knowledge that the challenge for London of such a target will be as least as great as that posed by the target for the rest of the country,” he said.

“The level of reduction should be the same if not greater and Londoners should experience similar if not more improvements in health benefits as the rest of the population on the basis of present policies and measures.”

For particulates outside London, the new target is a 24-hour objective of 50 micrograms per cubic metre not to be exceeded on more than seven days in any year, and to be achieved by 2010. There is also an annual objective of 20 micrograms per cubic metre.

Within London the 24-hour objective of 50 micrograms per cubic metre should not to be exceeded on more than 10 days in any year by 2010, with an annual objective of 23 micrograms per cubic metre.

Previously, the particulate target, as laid out in the Air Quality Strategy, published in January 2000, had required a 24 hour mean of 50 micrograms per cubic metre not to be exceeded more than 35 times in a year, with an annual mean of 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

It is intended that the tighter targets for particulates will be achieved through the Government’s ten year transport plan (see related story), tighter European vehicle emission and fuel standards, and the new Integrated Pollution and Prevention Control (IPPC) authorisation regime for industry (see related story).

The target for benzene has been raised from 16.25 micrograms per cubic metre to be met by the end of 2003, to five micrograms to be met by the end of 2010. Carbon monoxide levels will now have to be no more than ten micrograms as a running eight-hour mean by the end of 2003, as opposed to the previous target of 11.6 micrograms to be achieved by the same time.

Finally, levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons should have an annual mean of 0.25 nanograms. This new target will also have to be achieved by the end of 2010.

This latest announcement follows a similar tightening of targets for the four pollutants in Scotland in June (see related story).

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