Author: Marj Powner
We all recognise air pollution is a threat to the health of both humans and wildlife. And we know action is needed to introduce policies and measures that will reduce the harmful effects we are facing every day. The burden on the NHS, our economy and nature’s recovery is very visible.
With that in mind, more than 60 community representatives joined the online seminar hosted by the Community Planning Alliance (CPA) on 7th December, the first of three planned events aimed at engaging communities more actively in the air pollution/air quality debate. The lively chat inputs clearly showed the level of interest and concern about many issues, with questions about wood burning stoves and clean air zones being among the challenging topics raised with the speakers.
The webinar focused on the Government’s plan to introduce more rigorous targets for air pollution and why that is so important, with the first speaker, Andrew Jackson, Head of the Joint Defra/DfT Air Quality Task Force highlighting that, despite all the actions to date, there is much more to be done. In recognising that there is a strong case for ambitious targets for particulate matter, focusing on the benefits to public health, Andrew also acknowledged that the implementation of those targets will be challenging. He confirmed that the Government plans to launch a public consultation in early 2022 focusing on proposed targets for the reduction of PM2.5.
The need to do more was echoed by the second speaker, Professor Roy Harrison, a Government Adviser from the University of Birmingham. Having revealed the success stories of smoke, sulphur dioxide and lead, he then covered the failures in addressing pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter. Attendees welcomed the way Professor Harrison explained complex issues in very accessible language and his graphic showing the source contributions to PM2.5 in North Kensington generated a lot of interest from the audience. This sort of analysis would be welcomed by other areas.
The final speaker, Queen’s Nurse Heather Henry, emphasised that breathing clean air is a human right and highlighted the impact of air pollution on the most vulnerable in our society. She outlined the effect of poor air quality from pre-birth across the whole human life-cycle, particularly targeting the consequences for child health and development. Heather shared a graphic (source Public Health England, 2018) which showed the benefit of decreasing PM2.5 levels by just 1 µg m3 in terms of reduced health incidents by 2035 (for coronary heart disease, for example, the figure would be over 50,000 cases avoided), a huge reduction to health service resource needs and costs. The other key issue tackled by Heather is the lack of specific training for health professionals, enabling them to support not only the diagnosis of problems exacerbated by high or increasing levels of air pollution, but also to help educate the public, improving their health and wellbeing outcomes.
If you were not able to attend this first session, you can watch it on our Youtube channel here.
Our next event is scheduled for 8th February. Speaker and registration details are available by clicking the poster below.
Finally, the CPA has published a survey and would welcome responses from all interested parties, so please share it with your colleagues and any other groups you are involved with.