National Air Quality Conference: The Report

The Air Quality News team has just got back from Lords Cricket Ground, London, where we were hosting the National Air Quality Conference. 
Following on from COP26, where health and air pollution were clearly missing from the agenda, it was great to bring together academics, policymakers, local authorities and green-sector leaders in a dedicated space for all things air quality. 
Our expert speakers delivered thought-provoking and moving presentations, all of which highlighted the immediate need to act now to reduce air pollution across the globe. 
Chaired by Stephen Cirell, advisory energy consultant and host of the Environment Journal Podcast, the day included presentations on indoor air pollution, London’s approach to clean air and the impact that air pollution is having on children’s health. 
The first speaker of the day was Baroness Finlay.
Baroness Finlay is a Welsh doctor, professor of palliative medicine and a Crossbench Member of the House of Lords. She is also chair of the CO Research Trust, a charity aiming to reduce the incidents of death and injury caused by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
Her presentation, titled ‘The Housing Trilemma,’ looked at why Covid-19 should bring health and air quality back into focus for housing policymakers.

Indoor air pollution is estimated to cause 99,000 deaths annually across Europe, and according to Baroness Finlay, the Covid-19 pandemic may have inadvertently contributed to increased exposure to indoor air pollution. 

‘In London, one in five houses have no access to outside space,’ she explained. 

‘During lockdown, millions of people were stuck inside, breathing in poor indoor air, with no ability to get out.’ 

Baroness Finlay is therefore calling on housing policy to balance health concerns with affordability with sustainability. 

Next up was Larissa Lockwood, Larissa is the Director of Clean Air at charity Global Action Plan, the organisation behind Clean Air Day. 

In her presentation, Larissa gave a call to arms for action on air pollution a
She highlighted Global Action Plan’s shared set of asks, these include: 
  • Investment in alternatives to car travel 
  • Businesses mandated to act on air pollution 
  • Ban on log burners in urban areas
  • A public health campaign on air pollution 
  • Health professionals trained on air pollution 
  • National Schools Pollution Taskforce 
After a short coffee break, our key-note speaker Sir Stephen Holgate was welcomed to the stage with a round-of-applause from the audience. 
Sir Stephen is a Professor of Immunopharmacology and a respiratory physician at the University of Southampton. He is the founder of the DH Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, Chair of the Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee, President of the British Society of Allergy and is also a Special Advisor to the RCP on Air Quality. 
Amongst all of this, Sir Stephen was also the author of the report that found that air pollution contributed to the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah. 
In a very moving and powerful presentation, Stephen highlighted the shocking ways that air pollution impacts our health. 
He said: ‘Every single disease that is non-communicable is impacted by air pollution. It is not only involved in worsening diseases but in causing them, and new diseases, that wouldn’t otherwise occur are happening because of air pollution.’ 
In a critique of the new Environment Act, where the government has so far failed to adopt World Health Organisation guidelines on air pollution he added: ‘There is no safe level of air pollution. All this talk about threshold limits is ridiculous, air pollution is toxic right down to zero.’ 
Stephen also told the moving story of how he helped Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, who was also sitting in the audience, prove that air pollution was responsible for her daughter’s death. 
He presented graphic evidence on how Ella’s hospital episodes related to local pollution episodes near her home in London. 
‘Ella’s bronchiolar tubes were damaged chemically by the air she was breathing. She was drowning, she was a canary in a coal mine.’
After lunch, Felicity Aston, MBE joined the audience live from her home in Iceland. 
Felicity is a polar scientist, author, arctic explorer and public speaker. Felicity is also leading the BIG North Pole expedition, where an all-female team will be skiing to the North Pole to collect data on black carbon and microplastic pollution. 
Spacehouse, the publishers of Air Quality News and Environment Journal are sponsoring this expedition. 
There is a real sense of urgency around this expedition with access to this part of the world quickly dwindling. Felicity presented detailed information on just how quickly this part of the world is changing and also provided an insight into how the data we often take for granted but that is essential to inform our climate models and future predictions is collected. 
Next up to present was Jemima Hartshorn, a human rights lawyer and founder of the grassroots campaign group Mums for Lungs. 
When Jemima was on maternity leave in Brixton, London, she quickly became aware of the extent of the air pollution and the impact that it is having on children’s health. 
This led Jemima, and a group of other local mothers, to create this campaign group which is primarily volunteer-based. 
A lot of their work focuses on flyering, primarily on the issues of idling and wood-burning. 
In her talk, Jemima highlighted that 38% of particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution in the UK comes from domestic wood burning, with 98% of the people burning this wood also having central heating. 
‘The vast majority of this pollution is completely unnecessary,’ she said. 
After the final break, Elliot Treharne, Head of Air Quality and Assistant Director for Energy and Environment at the Greater London Authority joined the stage to inform the audience about London’s approach to air pollution. 
Elliot talked about the recent expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, the expansion of London’s electric bus fleet, and the Mayor’s Fund to help residents retrofit old vehicles. 
‘Going forward, we need to really think about what kind of city we want. There is a potential roadmap to address the issues we have faced for centuries and also to create a more sustainable, inclusive city,’ 
The day concluded with a panel discussion, where the audience had the chance to engage with key stakeholders from the industry.
Panel members included Elliot Treharne, Katie Nield, Clean Air Lawyer from ClientEarth, John Vinson, Commercial Director at VortexIOT and Rosamund Kissi-Debrah. 
The panel was faced with some difficult questions, from their thoughts on domestic wood-burning to how they think local authorities can continue to have an impact on air pollution with reduced powers and funding. 

Overall the day was a resounding success, with delegates, exhibitors and speakers all sharing their positive feedback. Thank you to our speakers, delegates, sponsors and exhibitors, without whose support this event would not have been possible.


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Matthew Marks
Matthew Marks
2 years ago

So what was the conclusion on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – for or against?

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