UK action on air pollution works but far more is needed, study shows

(The Guardian, 26 Jun 2019) UK’s dirty air still ‘a public health emergency’ despite dramatic fall in death rates.

Government action can cut air pollution, a long-term study has shown, with early deaths linked to dirty air in the UK falling by half between 1970 and 2010.

But toxic air remains the number one environmental health hazard, with one in 20 deaths still attributable to small particle pollution alone. The researchers said urgent action was needed to deal with a public health emergency that caused harm comparable to alcohol.

Cleaning up power stations and vehicles led to a fall in most pollutants in the four decades analysed. But ammonia from farms, which mixes with city air to form dangerous particles, has yet to be stringently tackled, the scientists said, and ozone pollution has risen.

“The message is that air quality policies work, but at the same time the current burden of air pollution on health is still very, very substantial,” said Sotiris Vardoulakis of the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, one of the research team. “It is a public health emergency and we need to do something about that.”

Even though air pollution has been falling over the years in the UK, understanding of the damage it causes to health is growing rapidly. A recent review found air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body, affecting physical, mental and reproductive health.

In October, the head of the World Health Organization said dirty air was the “new tobacco”. In the UK, the main air pollutants are above legal or WHO limits in most urban areas, although experts agree there is no safe level.

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The Guardian, 26 Jun 2019: UK action on air pollution works but far more is needed, study shows