Smog spike ‘stark reminder’ for UK Government

Warnings of high pollution levels across the country have reignited calls on the next Government to focus on air quality improvements and develop a national framework of Low Emission Zones to reduce transport emissions.

Harmful levels of air pollution is expected to blanket parts of the UK today (10 April) as warm, still conditions combine with traffic fumes, pollution from the continent and Saharan dust from the south.

The Government has pushed its air smog alert levels to ‘very high’ – the most extreme pollution warning – for parts of the South East and eastern England, with residents – regardless of their health – warned to reduce physical exertion.

National priority

The air pollution alert has prompted calls from green groups and environmental consultancies for the Government to step up its action and take the deadly impact of dirty air more seriously.

The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), which represents the UK’s environmental technologies and services sector, said today’s high levels of pollution are a “stark reminder” that this is the one environmental issue which is directly causing illness and premature death among tens of thousands of UK citizens.

“There are several causes to the current high pollution but that does not mean that action cannot be taken to reduce the severity of such episodes in future,” said the EIC’s executive director Matthew Farrow.

“In our election manifesto, we called on the next Government to make tackling air pollution one of its priorities. A national framework of Low Emission Zones combined with additional funding to retrofit old buses with emissions filters and tougher controls on emissions from construction site machinery would be a good start in reducing the diesel pollution that drives much of our air quality problem.”

Too late

London Mayor Boris Johnson has recently confirmed plans to launch the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) which will charge the owners of polluting vehicles up to £100 a day if they drive into most of central London, after 2020. But, with air pollution in the capital now estimated to be causing the early deaths of more than 4,000 people a year, the London Assembly has said the five-year delay in launching the ULEZ is too little, too late.

Earlier this month, Johnson was deemed “lucky” for the capital to have been rated highly for its air pollution mitigation efforts. London took sixth spot in a new ranking of 23 European cities on air quality, but the gap between London and the top five is apparently “staggering” and Johnson was rapped for having no plans to comply with air pollution laws until after 2030, if ever. 

Speaking of today’s smog episode, Simon Birkett, director of campaign group Clean Air in London, said: “This is the biggest, most serious air pollution or particle episode since the so-called Sahara dust episode a year ago.

“If there is one lesson this week, it’s that we must follow the lead of cities like Paris that are issuing public health warnings, restricting traffic and putting forward ambitious plans to triple cycling rates within five years.”

Luke Nicholls

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