Keeping lungs healthy: air quality

We want local authorities to set up formal clear air zones in our most polluted towns and cities. This would reduce the number of the most heavily polluting vehicles in areas where we live and work.

We need these actions to make sure that levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution in our communities to be brought within legal EU levels.

London is set to become a clean air zone

To help improve air quality, an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will be in place in central London from April 2019. Most vehicles, including cars and vans, will need to meet new, tighter exhaust emission standards or pay a daily charge within the area of the ULEZ. The plan is to remove the most heavily polluting vehicles from the city to protect local communities.

The area covered by the ULEZ is the same area as the Congestion Charging zone, with plans to extended it to the area bounded by the North and South Circular roads in 2020. It will be clearly signposted with road signs showing where it applies. The ULEZ will operate 24 hours a day, every day of the year, including weekends and public holidays.

The ULEZ is expected to encourage people to use their cars less in central London, and reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.

We also want action taken to reduce the toxic particulate matter, or soot, emitted by vehicles, wood burning, industry and farming.

bloodstream illustration

The smaller the particles, the deeper they can go into the respiratory system and the more hazardous they are to breathe. We want the law changed so that no-one in England lives in an area where emissions of particulate matter exceed limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

A personal view: exposure to poor air quality

Agnes Griffths

Agnes Griffiths was a bus driver and conductor in London from 1974 until 2002. “I really enjoyed my job,” says Agnes, now 68. “I worked with some great people and I was part of a vital public service.”

However, at the age of just 52 Agnes was encouraged by her employer to retire early on medical grounds. She left her job, against her wishes, one year after being diagnosed with COPD. “I suffered chest problems since I was a child. My health deteriorated after the introduction of bendy buses in London. The air conditioning system used recycled air and it exacerbated my condition.”

Agnes feels that she could have remained in work for several more years if her employer had been prepared to make reasonable adjustments. “I had worked all my life and I couldn’t cope with having to leave work. I found it very frustrating.”

Agnes moved from London to Canterbury. She feels that the cleaner air has been good for her health and she enjoys living closer to her grandchildren. She runs a Breath Easy Group and is a patient representative for the British Lung Foundation.

“I think employers should understand that a diagnosis of a lung condition does not mean that you can no longer contribute or have a role,” says Agnes. “Like many people with lung disease, I had so much more to give.”

We want to see the introduction of a national system of air pollution alerts alongside clear health advice. This would warn people about levels of pollution in their communities so those who are vulnerable can take steps to protect themselves. It would also raise awareness of the dangers of pollution and increase public support for better controls.

UK map showing clean air zones Birmingham Bolton Bristol Bury Coventry Derby Gateshead Leeds Middlesbrough Newcastle North Tyneside Nottingham Rotherham Salford Sheffield Southampton Stockport Tameside Trafford Manchester

Measures of success

All 20 cities identified by recent court action to be within legal limits for nitrogen dioxide. 

All 20 cities identified by recent court action to have a charging Clean Air Zone in place.

No-one in England lives in an area with an annual average level of PM which exceeds WHO recommended limits, as measured by Defra.

National system of air pollution alerts is set up and implemented within one year of this report being published and evaluated to assess public use and impact on behaviour change within five years.

Read our specific recommendations