UK blames Europe over fine air particle pollution

A UK government report has revealed that the national air quality standard for pollution by fine particles (PM10) will not be met, blaming air pollution carried over from continental Europe for "widespread exceedences" of the national particle objective.

The UK government has said it will raise the findings of the report and press for concerted EU action at the forthcoming Environment Council.

“Levels of airborne particles are decreasing – but not fast enough,” said UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher. “The report has shown that this is not a problem the UK can solve on its own. We now intend to discuss with our European partners how best this issue can be taken forward, Europe-wide.”

The report, ‘Source Apportionment of Airborne Particulate Matter in the UK’ states that the existing air quality standard for PM10 within the National Air Quality Strategy will not be achieved with existing policies. The quality standard objective is 50 ug/m3 as a 24-hour running mean to be achieved by the year 2005, with four days exceedence allowed per year.

National modelling at urban background sites, based on current policies showed that the main sources of particulate matter in the UK are primary particles emitted directly from vehicle exhausts, coal burning and industry.

But the authors of the report, the Airborne Particles Expert Group (APEG) chaired by Professor Roy Harrison of Birmingham University, say exceedences of the national particle objective are “strongly influenced” by secondary particle pollution formed by chemical reactions of gases carried from continental Europe and UK power stations.

In some years, the report says, exceedences of the 50 ug/m3 PM10 standard are dominated by secondary particles. These originate from Europe and the UK (mainly from power stations). These types of exceedences occur most frequently in years with characterised by frequent movements of air from Europe, such as that which occurred in 1996. Such weather conditions can be expected to

occur once every five to ten years.

The report calculated that if monitoring is conducted during weather conditions characterised by frequent movements of air from Europe then exceedences of the national PM10 objective would range from 13 days in Birmingham to around four days in Edinburgh in 2005.

If monitoring is conducted using typical meteorology then exceedences of the national PM10 objective would range from nine days in London to no exceedences in Manchester in 2005.

The report also shows that PM10 concentrations in the vicinity of busy roads are higher than those at background locations. Local industrial sources can also have a substantial effect on PM10 concentrations in some areas, as can domestic coal burning where this still takes place.

APEG was established in December 1997 to review current knowledge and to advise on the levels and sources of particles in the UK; the physical and chemical characteristics of particles; and the long range transport capabilities of particles.

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