Government failing to act swiftly to reduce harm caused by toxic air

Government failing to act swiftly to reduce harm caused by toxic air

Posted 22 June, 2021 at 10:30

Author Mark Bradshaw on behalf of Pronounce Concierge Service


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The Government has responded to the Coroner’s Prevention of Future Deaths Report following the inquest into the tragic death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah. The coroner had concluded that air pollution made a material contribution to Ella’s death in 2013.

The Government’s response fails to set out concrete actions to both reduce harmful levels of ambient air pollution and limit exposure to toxic air.  Once again, the Government is planning a consultation on a legal limit for tiny particulate matter (PM2.5) but not until next year.  British Safety Council finds this unbelievable when the Government’s own Environment Bill – the purpose of which is to set a legal limit for PM2.5 - is currently being considered in Parliament. Thus, the delay until late next year for the setting of a legal limit lacks credibility, when the reality is that air pollution is the UK’s largest environmental health risk, greater than obesity and smoking, which causes 40,000 deaths a year and costs the economy a staggering £30 billion annually.

While toxic air is potentially harmful to everyone, the risk of exposure is greater for outdoor workers, for whom the street is their workplace. This includes the people who deliver our letters, help our children to cross the road, empty our bins, and keep us safe from crime. They deserve better protection. British Safety Council is determined that they will get it. 

Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK. The evidence at the inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah was that there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be the minimum requirement. The issue will only get worse if the Government fails to take action to tackle the scale and urgency of this public health crisis.

British Safety Council would like further details about the Government’s plans to develop a population exposure reduction target and the research and evidence it will use to determine the target. The Government’s commitment to significantly increase the air pollution monitoring network to capture more detailed air quality information across the country, while welcome, is long overdue.  British Safety Council has been calling for this for a couple of years as part of its Time to Breathe campaign.

Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council said:

“The Government should act immediately to enshrine into UK law the World Health Organisation limits for PM2.5, as well as the WHO limits for other harmful pollutants including PM10, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.”

“We urge the Government to step up and show greater urgency and accountability for reducing air pollution and quite frankly for strong leadership ahead of the UN Climate Conference being held in Glasgow in November. It seems that as air pollution is a silent killer, it is not being taken as seriously as it should by the Government, but it is preventable.”

“On air pollution monitoring, improvements in monitoring across the UK is vital so that all regions and cities have the same accuracy of data as London. In this way, we can better understand where ‘hotspots’ exist and take steps to reduce exposure to toxic air.”

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