2nd Jul, 2022

West Midlands eco-campaigners back BHF's call for tougher government action to tackle toxic air pollution

WEST Midlands Friends of the Earth is backing British Heart Foundation demands for quicker government action to tackle damaging air pollution.

15million people in the UK live in areas with toxic air pollution exceeding World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, according to a new report published by the heart charity on Tuesday February 4.

The BHF report, We’re Full Of It – Progress Towards Cleaner Air and Why We Need To Do More, calls for more stringent guideline limits for fine particulate matter into UK law, to be met by 2030.

West Midlands Friends of the Earth campaigner Chris Crean said: “Ministers must move rapidly to clean up the UK’s filthy air. It’s a national scandal that millions of people are exposed to fine particle pollution that breaks international heath guidelines.

“Legally-binding World Health Organisation air pollution standards must be included in the government’s Environment Bill, along with a new duty on all public bodies to help meet these targets.

“It’s not just about swapping cars, vans and lorries for cleaner models – we need to cut down on the number of all vehicles on our roads. Even electric vehicles produce significant fine particle pollution from brake and tyre wear.

“The government must invest in better comprehensive local mass transport, not HS2, as well as safer cycling and walking. Getting people out of their cars will not only reduce air pollution and protect health – it will help cut climate-wrecking emissions too.”

The BHF, which has ploughed £5.5 million of research into the effects of air pollution on the heart and circulatory system, estimates that up to 11,000 deaths from heart and strokes can be attributed to air pollution.

A quarter of the population is likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of these toxic particles, known as fine particulate matter or PM2.5.

Currently, the UK subscribes to EU limits on levels of PM2.5.

But these are not as strict as those set out by the WHO, and progress towards reducing levels of major air pollutants has been mixed since the previous Government’s Clean Air Strategy was published in January 2019.

This strategy set out a number of commitments aimed at reducing levels of major air pollutants, which include halving the number of people living in areas above the WHO guideline level for PM2.5 by 2025, reducing emissions, and setting a new long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to PM2.5.

Twelve months on, the BHF says that the nation’s health cannot wait.

The Environment Bill, which has now returned to Parliament, is a golden opportunity to set this in motion, says the charity. The Bill promises the setting of legally binding air pollution targets, but some important commitments are missing from it, including pledges to adopt the stricter WHO guideline limits.

Jacob West, director of Healthcare Innovation at the BHF, said: “Tackling a public health emergency on this scale requires serious and sustained commitment. This could mean changes that might not be easy or convenient for organisations or individuals, but they will prove crucial to protecting people’s health.

“You only have to look at past Clean Air Acts or more recently the smoking ban for examples of bold legislation that has improved the air we all breathe.

“The uncomfortable truth is that UK heart and circulatory deaths attributed to air pollution could exceed 160,000 over the next decade unless we take radical steps now.”

In addition to stricter air pollution limits, the BHF is calling for:

· Charging Clean Air Zones to be implemented in all areas that are in breach of the WHO guidelines,

· An acceleration of plans to invest in cycling and walking infrastructure,

· And a national public awareness campaign run by Public Health England, among other measures.

Mr West added: “We can’t see them, but every day, we all breathe in tiny toxic particles which damage our heart and circulatory health. They are an invisible killer.”

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