Government ‘needs to realise’ UK has poor air quality

European Commission environment spokesman says UK and other EU countries have an air quality problem that must be dealt with

The UK and other governments across Europe ‘need to realise’ that they have an air quality problem that must be dealt with, according to the European Commission’s environment spokesman.

Joe Hennon, spokesman for the environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik, said that although the “naturally occurring phenomenon” of Saharan dust blowing over had played a part in the high levels of pollution across Wales and the South of England this week (see story), much of it was due to domestic, man-made air pollution.

Met Office map forecasting high pollution levels in the UK and Northern France this week

Met Office map forecasting high pollution levels in the UK and Northern France this week

Speaking to today (April 4), Mr Hennon said: “First of all, this [Saharan dust] is a naturally occurring phenomenon that occurs now and then, but the fact remains that the UK and other countries do have an air quality problem.”

He added: “38 of 43 zones in the UK are in breach of limits for NO2 and in other parts of Europe there are at least 14 other countries in breach of limits for PM10. The UK and governments all across the EU need to realise that we have an air pollution problem and it needs to be dealt with.

“We dealt with coal pollution and acid rain in the 70s and 80s, but politicians seem to have taken their eyes off the ball on this issue.”

WHO estimates

Last week the World Health Organisation (WHO) published estimates that around seven million people worldwide died prematurely as a result of exposure to air pollution in 2012, calling air pollution the world’s ‘single biggest environmental health risk’.

Commenting on the WHO estimates, Mr Hennon said: “The more research they do into it the more dangerous it seems to be.”

And, asked whether UK politicians such as Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson — who appeared to play down the pollution risks this week (see story) — were sufficiently aware of the scale of the problem, Mr Hennon said: “I would just see say that if they are not aware, they ought to be — the UK is facing European court action for breaching limits for NO2.”

Mr Hennon added: “Everybody should be aware that this is a permanent air pollution problem, it is just that on this occasion you can see the dust.

“Air pollution is also something that you can clearly measure — it is not like other environmental problems such as climate change. It is there or it is not there and you can measure it, so we know these EU countries have an air pollution problem.”

Responding the high levels of air pollution this week — which in some areas reached the top of the Met Office’s air pollution scale — Defra said it was “investing heavily in local and transport initiatives to tackle this issue head on” (see story).


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