Upholding the right to breathe in clean air should be recognised as a major issue for all of us from grass roots up to national government. For this reason an environmental pressure group called Client Earth has brought a case against the UK government for failing to meet EU clean air limits for the 2010 deadline. The EU Court of Justice is close to ruling on this and the judgment could lead to significant fines for us and therefore other countries not abiding by the agreed limits. Client Earth has recognised a lack of political will to achieve the deadline and as we shall see the consequences of this have far reaching repercussions for our health and wellbeing.
Recent figures show that about 29,000 premature deaths occur yearly as a result of air pollution in the UK. Of these 500 occur in Sheffield. These figures equate to twice as many deaths from road traffic accidents, obesity, and alcohol abuse and air pollution is now second only to smoking as cause of death.
Dr Ian Mudway, a lecturer in respiratory toxicology at King’s College London University has made a study of the effects of air pollution on the lungs of children. He fears for the permanent damage done to their health by the ultra fine particles and gases emitted by traffic, particularly diesel engines.
Some of the effects of polluted air leads to irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, nausea, bronchitis and pneumonia and over a longer term can result in heart attacks, lung disease, cancers and even brain damage as well as damage to liver and kidneys. Those who die are only the very end of a spectrum of health effects but many more are hospitalised, including large numbers of asthma sufferers. This of course results in a tremendous burden on the already struggling NHS.
In a recent survey in Sheffield 60% of respondents said they were aware of the health effects of air pollution but only 22% claimed to be very aware of the more far reaching consequences, i.e. the effect of air quality of household emissions and landfill sites, the damage done by sulphur and nitrogen dioxide as well as carbon monoxide. Most linked the impacts of air pollution with respiratory issues but didn’t realise the links to cancer, premature births and high blood pressure. Nor were they aware of the disproportional effect of people living in poorer areas.
In Sheffield there is an association called The Sheffield Community Air Quality Monitoring Project, which is a partnership between Sheffield City Council, the East End Quality of Life Initiative and local community groups. Out of this was born the Abbeydale Corridor Clean Air Campaign. Abbeydale Road from its start at Highfields to Abbey Lane has a serious air quality problem and is one of the most polluted roads in Europe, given its geographic position, almost like a hanging valley in effect. This greatly affects the health of people living, working or just travelling up and down. People in cars do not escape the effects either! I became involved in this group as a Green Party candidate along with Cllr Rob Murphy also Green Party, along with other councillors and council officers and representatives of neighbourhood group along the corridor. Our first meeting was summer 2014.
Our first task was to try to find ways to inform local residents of the seriousness of the problem on their doorsteps and around their schools etc. The better informed people are then the more willing they become to come up with proactive ways of reducing problems. Possible ways of communicating the messages were newsletters, school based work, websites, packs, car stickers and posters, roadside boards.
The next step would be to look at possible ways of alleviating the problem. Possible measures might include car sharing, lower emission cars, low emission zones, a ban on diesel, encouraging more walking, cycling and bus travel. Other cities have tried congestion charges and alternate number plate usage. Another suggestion would be subsidised bus fares on the most congested roads. Would be interesting to trial it!!
The solutions are not easy and some would be very unpopular but one thing is for sure. We need radical solutions and we need them fast in order to safeguard our health and that of our planet. If you would like to get involved or pass on your views contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org