We Need a New Clean Air Act to Cope with Rising Levels of Pollution

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

We Need a New Clean Air Act to Cope with Rising Levels of Pollution


Byline: Vyvyan Howard

WE NEED a new approach to air pollution in cities. There is little dispute in the scientific community that chronic exposure to aerosols of tiny particles injures health and reduces life expectancy.

This is seen in the population as increased mortality and morbidity from respiratory, cardiovascular and malignant disease. The very young and aged are most vulnerable. The Six City Study in the US and one in Europe confirm this. And the late Dr Dick van Steenis demonstrated large increases in asthma incidence near large particle-emitting combustion plants.

In addition, there is the phenomenon of "deaths brought forward", where vulnerable people succumb to acute respiratory conditions, heart attacks and strokes following periods of poor air quality. It is currently estimated that 29,000 premature deaths attributable to air pollution occur in the UK each year. Those living in large conurbations and towards the South-East are the most at risk, to some additional extent because of pollution drifting across from the Continent.

The Clean Air Act 1956, a reaction to the Great Smog of 1952, brought huge benefits -- although it also contributed to our current problems. We have swapped big soot-particle "pea-soupers" for an invisible "photo-chemical smog" consisting primarily of smaller ultra-fine particles (UFPs).

Normal face masks offer no protection from UFPs. Nor are you protected if you stay indoors: UFPs pass easily inside buildings. Living near major roads incurs a higher exposure. Pedestrians and cyclists, who are exercising, can receive even higher UFP exposures. And car ventilation systems blow a UFP aerosol straight in the faces of passengers. In a place like London, UFP exposure is continuous and inescapable.

Particle emissions are regulated by their weight. …

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