Unmasked: the true story behind the air you’re breathing

The High Court has rejected a legal challenge over the government’s inadequate draft Air Quality Plan, but the case for greater action to be taken on air pollution is indisputable.
  Published:  25 Apr 2017    |      2 minute read

The court ruling comes as Friends of the Earth releases a new report with findings of our ground-breaking citizen science experiment on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution.

NO2 is a toxic gas prevalent in diesel fumes and associated with a range of serious health problems. The findings reveal that the UK’s dirty air problem is even more widespread than the government admits.

Pollution hotspots in every region of the UK

Oliver Hayes, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said:

“Our citizen scientists found air pollution hotspots in every region of the UK – including some disturbingly high results. The breadth of locations affected by dirty air reinforces the need for a government plan that will deliver clean air everywhere.

“Lives are being cut short because of the air we’re breathing, and not just in big cities. This experiment shows that people everywhere are right to be concerned about air pollution and its devastating health effects.”

Our citizen science experiment empowered thousands across the country to test the quality of the air where they live and what they found was shocking.

Their results found pollution hotspots in 133 local authorities, 26 more than the government has identified in its draft Air Quality Plan. This includes 13 neglected areas which are not currently identified as having a problem by either their local authority or the national government.

The 10 worst NO2 readings uncovered by our citizen scientists were in the following council areas:

1. Lambeth – 134 micrograms per cubic metre (µgm³)

2. Hammersmith and Fulham – 116 µgm³

3. Camden – 110

4. Brighton and Hove – 98

5. Southwark – 97

6. Bristol – 97

7. Wigan – 97

8. Hackney – 95

9. Brent – 94

10. Tameside – 83

If these snapshot readings were replicated over the course of a year, they would compare very poorly to the annual legal limit of 40 µgm³.

Toxic air health crisis

The figures are alarming, and it’s clear, that toxic air is a health crisis the government must not ignore.

That’s why we’re calling on the government to use the final Air Quality Plan, due later this month, to urgently introduce Clean Air Zones in all areas predicted to have illegal levels of pollution beyond next year.

Oliver Hayes said:

“The government has acknowledged that Clean Air Zones are the best way to deal with this public health crisis. With the government back in court again this week over its woeful proposals, its time they stop playing politics with our health and urgently introduce Clean Air Zones where air is set to remain illegal dirty.”

It’s time the government put the nation’s health first, if you agree, join our calls for clean air everywhere and together we’ll ensure they produce an Air Quality Plan that’s worth the name.