Legal limit on pollution will be HALVED by 2040 – but campaigners criticise ‘incredibly weak’ target
- Environment Secretary George Eustice will today unveil plans to slash targets
- But they will not come into force for the next two decades, it was revealed today
- Campaigners today blasted the plans as leaving another generation exposed
Ministers are planning to halve the legal limit on the most dangerous type of air pollution by 2040, it was revealed today.
Currently, the maximum permissible level is set at an annual average of 20 micrograms per cubic metre of air (mcg/m3).
But Environment Secretary George Eustice will today unveil plans to slash this to 10mcg/m3 in England over the next two decades.
Tiny toxic airborne particles, known PM2.5 particles, are known to cause breathing problems, heart disease and neurological problems such as dementia.
They are considered the most dangerous form of air pollution because their tiny size allows them to penetrate deep into the lungs and throat, and into the blood.
But campaigners have criticised the proposed change for being ‘incredibly weak’, warning it would leave ‘another generation exposed to toxic pollution’.
They called on ministers to follow new recommendations set by the World Health Organization last year, which recommends levels should not exceed 5mcg/m3. The WHO previously set its limit at 10mcg/m3.
Tougher air pollution laws will be brought in after the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah from an asthma attack
A report by the British Heart Foundation in 2020 estimated 15million people — a quarter of the British population — live in areas where average levels of toxic particles in the air exceed 10mcg/m3.
In London, PM2.5 concentrations are about 13mcg/m3 on average, while in Birmingham it is around 14mcg/m3 and in Bristol it rises above 20mcg/m3.
Rates of pollution fluctuate day-to-day, however, with research suggesting tens of thousands of air pollution deaths were avoided worldwide during the pandemic as people used their cars less during lockdown.
Only rural areas, mostly in the north of England, meet the WHO recommendation of 5mcg/3.
People in polluted areas 40% more likely to suffer disease, study
People who live in polluted areas face a 40 per cent higher risk of catching arthritis and other immune system diseases, warns a new study.
Breathing in fumes from cars and factories on a daily basis could also increase the odds of having other conditions like connective tissue and inflammatory bowel diseases.
The number of people affected by these conditions has steadily climbed over the past decade, but the reasons why have remained unclear.
Now researchers at the University of Verona in Italy have come up with a possible explanation — air pollution.
The findings were published in the BMJ journal RMD Open.
Study author Dr Giovanni Adami said: ‘Environmental air pollution from vehicle exhaust and industrial output can trigger adaptive immunity – whereby the body reacts to a specific disease-causing entity.
‘But sometimes this adaptive response misfires, prompting systemic inflammation, tissue damage, and ultimately autoimmune disease.’
Current estimates suggest air pollution contributes to about 40,000 deaths in the UK every year.
Ministers are announcing the reduction in air pollution limits as part of the post-Brexit Environment Bill, which will also set legally-binding aims for water quality, wildlife, waste reduction and resource efficiency.
The PM2.5 limit will come into force five years after the UK switches to only selling electric cars.
Ministers have repeatedly claimed leaving the EU has enabled them to beef-up targets for reducing air pollution.
The bloc has set its annual average limit to 20mcg/m3.
But the mother of nine-year-old Ella who last year became the first person to have pollution listed as her cause of death today called on the Government to go further.
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah told The Times: ‘The Government has failed the whole nation and betrayed my daughter’s memory by proposing this incredibly weak target.’
She accused ministers of ignoring recommendations from little Ella’s inquest, which saw the Government urged to stick to WHO guidelines for air pollution.
Katie Neild, a lawyer at environmental charity Client Earth, told the newspaper: ‘The target date the Government is proposing means that another generation will be exposed to toxic pollution far above what the world’s scientists think is acceptable.’
The plans are part of the post-Brexit Environment Bill, which legally-binding targets for air quality, water, wildlife, waste reduction and resource efficiency,
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: ‘We are setting out today a new approach to restoring our natural world, including improved protections for habitats and new long-term legally binding environment targets.
‘EU directives have not done enough to halt the decline of nature. They have led to our experts being stewards for a process, rather than stewards of the environment. We now have the freedom to do things better.’