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16th December 2022

Air pollution reduction targets bad for health

Air pollution reduction target not good enough.

The government’s newly published targets to reduce air pollution, could result in air pollution levels in England still double the World Health Organization guidelines 18 years from now, putting the health of thousands at risk.

The target has failed to deliver warnings from health professionals, who have called for an absolute minimum target to achieve the WHO interim target (PM2.5 levels of 10 µg/m3) by 2030. 2040 is far too late.

Health professionals see first-hand the impacts of air pollution on their patients. In a submission to the environmental target setting consultation earlier this year, members of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change provided evidence of the impacts being experienced across multiple areas of healthcare. The range of conditions linked to air pollution include anxiety, depression, suicide, dementia, cognitive abilities, miscarriage, low birth weight, stillbirth, asthma, poor lung function, and cardiovascular conditions. The affects are seen across all age groups from pre-term babies to the elderly.

Evidence from previous research indicates that the positive health benefits of achieving a target of 10 µg /m3 by 2030 include 20 fewer infant deaths, 388,000 fewer asthma symptom days in children, and 6,300 fewer respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions annually. In total, about 98,000 life years could be gained annually with people living longer, suffering less ill health, a reduced burden on the health service and fewer days lost to absenteeism in the workplace if we achieved 10 µg/m3 by 2030. CBI Economics has reported that improving air quality could bring an annual boost of £1.6 billion to the UK economy through 3 million additional working days and reduced rates of early retirement.

Director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, Dr Elaine Mulcahy said, “We’ve known about the health implications of poor air quality for years, but not enough has been done to tackle the problem and we are now in a situation where the health and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in the UK are impacted year on year. Globally, millions die from air pollution annually. The government’s target to reduce levels pf PM2.5 to 10cmg/m3 by 2040 would mean that a child born today will still be breathing dirty air by the age of 20. And that is not good enough.”