Every Breath You Take

London's air pollution has severe and costly impact

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Air pollution in the capital may have contributed to the deaths of an estimated 3,000 people in one year, but bold action from the Mayor could dramatically improve the air we breathe, a London Assembly report reveals.

The Assembly Environment Committee report says London’s air quality is amongst the worst in the UK and Europe and well below targets set by the European Union. Emissions mainly from diesel vehicles contribute to a range of health problems, from coughing and sneezing to more serious illnesses requiring hospital admissions, and even death. Children and the elderly are worst affected, the report says.

All local authorities have a statutory duty to monitor air quality in their local area. A spokesperson for London Borough of Hounslow said the Council agrees with and supports the recommendations of the report by the London Assembly ‘A breath of fresh air’.

“Hounslow council conducts local air quality management under the Environment Act 1995.

“Though background levels of air pollution are declining, roadside concentrations are increasing due to the increase in numbers of diesel cars. The highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in the borough are along Chiswick High Road.

“The Borough has produced an air quality action plan with measures to reduce levels of air pollution and exposure to air pollutants. Measures in the air quality action plan include shift of road freight to rail, modal shift to public transport, reducing congestion and promotion of alternatively fuelled and electric vehicles.

“We are working with colleagues in planning and transport to put measures in place to reduce exposure to pollution and to lower air pollution levels.

“The air quality pages on the council website have measures that people can take to reduce air pollution such as walking.”

During the investigation, experts and academics questioned whether the Mayor’s policies will improve London’s air quality and if they will be sufficient to meet the EU targets.

To address this, the Committee calls on the Mayor to set out detailed projections of the costings, timings and impacts of policies contained in his forthcoming air quality strategy. Drawing on a broad base of submissions and successes in other European cities, the report recommends actions the Mayor can take to improve air quality and protect Londoners’ health:

  • Road traffic remains the largest source of air pollution, so the Mayor should reduce the older diesel fleet, fit particulate filters to reduce emissions by up to 90 percent, and investigate using biofuel for all public transport.
  • Different technological solutions, including targeted low emission zones in central London and electronic information panels in public areas that relay real time pollution levels should give Londoners more information about air pollution levels in their area and enable the Mayor to monitor progress against legal targets.
  • The Mayor and the GLA should work closely with both central government and London boroughs, acting as a co-ordinator to drive forward the necessary policies.
  • More should be done to encourage walking and cycling around the capital to reduce vehicle emissions.

Darren Johnson AM said,“There is no single solution to achieving clean air and while all levels of government, from local to European must play a part, the Mayor’s policies to tackle air pollution needs to be at the heart of improving the air Londoners breathe.”

May 12, 2009