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Northern Ireland manifesto: Prevent it

Prevention is always a good idea and while there are, as yet, no cures for long term respiratory illnesses, it is vitally important.

When people think about how best to prevent lung conditions, stopping smoking is often seen as the number one measure people can take. However, that alone will not prevent all lung conditions. Our homes, air quality, our jobs and how we exercise all have important parts to play in preventing poor lung health.

Outdoor air pollution kills: Northern Ireland’s lungs shouldn’t pay

There is no safe level of air pollution to breathe in. An air pollutant is any substance in the air that could harm people. Particulate Matter (known as PM), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are particularly damaging.

When people are exposed to high pollution levels, for example next to a busy road or during a high pollution episode, they breathe in these toxic materials. Many experience immediate symptoms such as irritated airways, breathlessness, and coughing.

People with a lung condition suffer further with high levels of air pollution. Toxins can exacerbate symptoms, cause an asthma attack or a COPD flare-up.

In comparison with other major UK cities, Belfast is the second biggest per head emitter of PM2.5 in the UK. Whilst transport and industrial activity contribute significantly to air pollution, domestic fuel burning produces more emissions than other parts of the UK.

Department of Health project that in the period 2017-2035, the total costs to health and social care are estimated to be in the region of £182m - £635m. Air pollution is draining our resources, straining our health system, cutting short over 800 lives a year here and expected to cause 84,000 new disease cases by 2035. Air pollution is a public health crisis.

Asthma + Lung UK Northern Ireland is calling for: 

The development of a Clean Air Strategy to provide clear targets and obligations for departments to provide better air quality and lung health for everyone in Northern Ireland.

A Northern Ireland Clean Air Act that would: 

  • Enshrine in law the new World Health Organisation air quality guidelines.
  • Mandate the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to produce a statutory air quality strategy every 10 years.
  • Establish Low Emissions Zones, which cover all aspects of air quality, including Smoke Control and provide a statutory duty on district councils to appropriately monitor, assess and act against air pollution.
  • Ban the sale of most inefficient wood burners and the most polluting domestic fuels such as smoky fuels and wet wood.
  • Introduce a ‘right to breathe’ whereby local authorities are obliged to inform vulnerable groups when certain levels are breached.

A Clean Air Fund that provides targeted funding for those Local Authorities with consistent exceedances or elevated levels of air pollution. 

Funding to be given to councils to boost pollution monitoring outside schools and health centres/hospitals. 

Improved pollution monitoring, awareness campaigns and public health alerts so that people living in every part of Northern Ireland are aware of local pollution levels. 

Greater investment in public transport and active travel. 

An ambitious plan to be in place to increase the electric car charging network and review alternative methods of fuel such as hydrogen. 

Implement a ban on idling outside schools to protect Northern Ireland’s children while they learn and play. 

Car-free zones around schools where significant percentages of journeys are made to school by car.

 

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Read next: how we can have smoke free lungs in Northern Ireland