Around 29,000 people die prematurely each year in the UK because of air pollution, according to Public Health England in 2014. The worst affected cities in Britain are Birmingham, Leeds and London.
Last week the FT reported on the findings of the World Health Organisation’s latest assessment of polluted air, a problem the body says is causing more than 3m premature deaths worldwide each year. It can cause breathing difficulties in vulnerable people, such as asthmatics and older adults and stunt the proper growth of lung function in children, according to Dr Annette Pruss-Ustun, a co-author of the WHO study. People get sore throats, headaches and breathing difficulties, “and that is just what you feel”, she said, adding air pollution had been linked to a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes:
“This really calls for a strong political will to recognise this as a major public health issue and do something about it.”
A year ago, ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reported from Birmingham. Professor Rob Mackenzie (above, Birmingham University) said that there is increasingly strong evidence of the effect of air pollution on hearts and lungs. ITV’s short video may be seen here.
ClientEarth: “We have the right to breathe clean air. It is a shame that our government doesn’t seem to agree.”
Another ITV News article quoted a spokesman for ClientEarth, an environmental law organisation which has been fighting a legal battle to improve air quality: “We think the government will need to get rid of the dirtiest diesel vehicles – perhaps with a network of ultra-low emission areas across the UK.” It was alleged that the main culprits are not private cars but older buses and diesel-powered trucks – a charge disputed by The Times.
After five years of litigation, the Government was ordered by the UK’s highest court to take immediate action over its obligations under European law on air pollution limits. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that government must submit new air quality plans to the EU no later than 31 December 2015.
However, ClientEarth believed the government was still in breach of its legal duty to produce new air quality plans to bring air pollution down to legal levels in the “shortest possible time” and asked judges to strike down the plans released on 17 December, which, they contended, wouldn’t bring the UK within legal air pollution limits until 2025. They sought a court order requiring new plans and an undertaking that government will act on them. On April 28th this year, a judge at the High Court granted their request to pursue a Judicial Review against DEFRA.
ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said: “The government’s new plans to tackle air pollution are woefully inadequate and won’t achieve legal limits for years to come. The longer they are allowed to dither and delay, the more people will suffer from serious illness or an early death.”