Experts push for stricter air pollution standards in new environment legislation

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Following the release of new WHO guidelines on air pollution, experts say the new Environment Bill should adopt the stricter guidelines as targets.

Amendments to the Environment Bill are currently being considered. This Bill will establish the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), a new body which will provide oversight of government targets in a number of areas, including air quality, water, biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction.

At Report stage in the House of Lords, peers voted in favour of an amendment which would work to ensure that the government’s air quality target on reducing particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions is in line with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. While no specific targets related to air quality appear within the text of the bill, the government has indicated that it does not currently plan to adopt WHO guidelines.

In September, the WHO published an update to its Global Air Quality Guidelines. Members of Imperial College London’s Network of Excellence on Air Quality (NExAir) welcomed the new guidelines which a number of academics from our School of Public Health helped to develop. Imperial academics are now encouraging the government to take ambitious actions to reduce air pollution and as soon as possible, including by aiming for WHO guidelines on air quality.

Healthy air quality for all

Imperial’s Dr Audrey de Nazelle, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Environment Policy, said: “New legislation is needed to encourage air pollution reductions everywhere – not just in pollution hot spots – to achieve healthy air quality for all.” She is therefore supporting efforts to ensure that air quality targets on PM2.5 pollution established in the Environment Bill are in line with WHO guidelines, also noting the co-benefits of measures such as reduced car use on greenhouse emissions and physical health.

Professor Frank Kelly, Deputy Director of the MRC Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial, has echoed the calls for firmer targets on reducing air pollution. He said: “Research undertaken by the Centre has uncovered many new conditions linked with poor air quality, such as reduced lung growth in school children and cognitive decline in the elderly. As well as supporting the WHO PM2.5 target, there need to be immediate efforts on reducing all types of air pollution to be focused on areas most exposed to it (primarily urban areas) through ‘population exposure reduction targets’.”

Imperial’s Dr Marc Stettler, Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Transport Studies, has similarly called for the government to adopt the WHO target on PM2.5. He said: “The government needs to commit to a varied set of effective measures to ensure targets are met as one single policy will not be sufficient.” He has also highlighted the importance of continued regulation of other pollutants, both those which have previously been regulated by the EU and those which are emergent health concerns.

Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, Royal College of Physicians special adviser on air quality said: “We welcomed the amendment in the House of Lords to include legal targets to reduce PM2.5 in the Environment Bill. We know PM2.5 is incredibly harmful to human health and we continue to learn more about air pollution and its effects every day. So while government has to be prepared to take increasingly ambitious action if we are to mitigate the increasingly severe impacts of air pollution, the Lords amendment to limit PM2.5 to 10mg by 2030 is a strong foundation.

“Lowering air pollution levels will lead to significant improvements with everyone breathing cleaner air and produce substantial long term gains in meeting the UK’s climate change objectives – so we strongly urge government to keep the amendment on legal targets on PM2.5 in the Bill.”

Strongly endorsed

Last month, the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) jointly with the European Respiratory Society (ERS) published a statement endorsed by over 100 scientific, medical and public health societies in support of the new WHO Air Quality Guidelines and urging governments to implement bold and ambitious clean air policies without delay in order to protect health.

This has now been endorsed by further UK societies:

- British Occupational Hygiene Society

- Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care

- European Public Health Association

- European Public Health Association - GB

- The British Society for Allergy & Clinical Immunology

- Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists (ARNS)

- UK/Ireland Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Society

- The Respiratory Section of the RSM

- British Association for Lung Research

- Royal College of Physicians

- British Thoracic Society (BTS)

- Asthma UK/British Lung Foundation,

- Sarcoidosis UK



Mark Condren

Mark Condren
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Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
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