The Clean Air Strategy is a start, but a missed opportunity

Pauline from our policy team explains that the Clean Air Strategy is a good start, but if the government really wants to help and support people with lung conditions, it needs to go much further. 

air pollution taxi

The government has published its final Clean Air Strategy, which recognises the huge impact air pollution has on all our health.

It promises new ways to inform the public about air pollution levels and provide health advice, aiming to reduce the number of people exposed to unsafe levels of pollution by 2025, and acknowledges that the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) limit for particulate pollution is the best standard to aim for.

At first look, it seems like a great plan. But what's actually going to change?

It's a missed opportunity

The Clean Air Strategy contains several undeniably good points on how to deal with air quality. But in reality, it's a missed opportunity.

That's because the new strategy doesn't commit to adopting World Health Organisation's limit for fine particulate matter (also known as PM2.5 - one of the most dangerous types of air pollution) in the upcoming Environment Bill.

This is a crucial thing to have missed. We've written before about why we desperately need a new legal limit for particulate matter pollution after our discovery that over 2,000 health centres in the UK are located in areas with unsafe levels of PM2.5.

So it's is a step in the right direction, but we needed to see a commitment to ensure no one is exposed to toxic air, which we didn't get. 

It's a shame. It would have been a bold and meaningful way to reassure the public that the government is taking air pollution seriously and that words will be translated into action without further delay.

Why you should care about air pollution

We've been aware of damage the UK's air pollution crisis has been causing since long before it started hitting headlines.

Nine out of 10 patients we support told us they struggled to breathe during high pollution episodes. For these people, air pollution has a very real and serious impact on their quality of life. It gets in the way of their everyday activities such as going to work, shopping and meeting with friends and family.

Air pollution is bad for everyone, but for the 12 million people in the UK who live with a lung condition, such as asthma, COPD or IPF, it poses a real and immediate threat to their health. 

If you live with a lung condition, a spike in air pollution levels can lead to your symptoms getting worse, flare-ups and even the risk of going to hospital. 

Children at risk

We also know that children are vulnerable to air pollution because their lungs are still growing and because of their height which can put them directly in the path of fumes coming from exhaust pipes. The damage done to their lungs can last a lifetime.

Children living in polluted areas are more likely to have underdeveloped lungs, and children with smaller lungs are more likely to face further problems in later life.  

What happens next?

Clean air is expected to be part of the Environment Bill. It's the perfect opportunity to put the WHO's important recommended limit into legislation.  The government and local authorities would have to start working towards it now.

But you can be sure we’ll be fighting for clean air every step of the way. I’ll be talking to MPs in the next month and we’ll pressure them to make sure the new environment bill is as strong as possible. Our children deserve to breathe clean air and we won’t stop until that’s a reality.


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14 January 2019