Around 29,000 people die prematurely each year in the UK because of air pollution, according to Public Health England. The New York Times reported the World Health Organisation’s finding that exposure to fine airborne particles is estimated to have contributed to illness, including cardiovascular disease and lung cancer leading to 3.2 million premature deaths worldwide. In Western cities the causes include road transport, domestic and commercial heating systems and industry. The Supreme Court has ordered the UK government to make plans for tackling air pollution, which is linked to thousands of premature deaths each year. It is reported that London and several other British cities have failed to meet EU standards on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels since 2010, though they have fallen since the 1970s.
Movement for change
In 2011, Birmingham council’s air quality action plan stressed the problem of nitrogen dioxide [NO2], mainly from road vehicles, highlighting a study concluding that long term exposure causes lung scarring & emphysema. For many years Birmingham FOE campaigners have said that more walking and cycling can provide a large part of the solution. Their Let’s Get Moving campaign calls on the council to invest £10 per person per year in cycling for the next 10 years to bring the city up to standard. The writer adds that there should be well-maintained, segregated cycle paths sees reference to showers as a delaying tactic; the appropriately dressed urban cyclist is cool in summer and pleasantly warm in winter.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who introduced the city wide cycle scheme, now with mobile apps, called for a diesel scrappage scheme to tackle air pollution last year after researchers said Oxford Street had the highest NO2 concentrations in the world. The French government is to introduce a “super bonus” of up to €10,000 (£7,470), helping drivers to replace old diesel vehicles with a plug-in hybrid or electric model.
Thanks to the Met Office’s new forecasting system, introduced last year, the public is now being informed of serious air pollution episodes in advance. Dr Ian Mudway, lecturer in respiratory toxicology at King’s College London, noted that before this system came into force, when the air pollution maps turned red, “The BBC ran stories about the pollution in Paris and Milan, but no one thought it worthwhile to inform the British public that they were being exposed to dangerous levels of fine particulates”.
The Universities Alliance reports that Coventry University spin-out company Microcab Ltd uses a new technology, combining hydrogen from the pump with oxygen from the air to create electricity to drive the electric motors in a fleet of zero emissions lightweight vehicles launched in 2012. Its fuel cell, the H2EV, can be refilled with hydrogen in minutes to run for 100 miles before needing a top up. The CBOA advocates a reduction in costs, road congestion and air pollution by removing heavy freight from lorries to barges where there are suitable routes – and Professor Harris’ Protium project goes further, environmentally speaking, having designed a prototype hydrogen-fuelled barge (above left).
Good work in generating clean power is being done by:
Electric Eigg (www.isleofeigg.net)
Dundee University (www.dundee.ac.uk)
Sustainable Energy For All (www.se4all.org)
Further steps forward may well come from the World Health Organization, whose International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has convened an Advisory Group of epidemiologists, toxicologists, atmospheric scientists, cancer biologists and regulators to make recommendations for the development of a series of Monographs on air pollution.