Refuse staff exposed to ‘dangerously high’ pollution

GMB union urges councils to design collection routes to reduce workers’ exposure to nitrogen dioxide pollution

Trade union GMB is calling on councils to avoid operating refuse collection and street cleaning routes during busy traffic periods in order to mitigate workers’ exposure to air pollution.

According to the union’s monitoring of nitrogen dioxide at 110 sites across the UK, the national safe limit for the pollutant was exceeded at seven locations in London and nine locations around the rest of the UK between January and June this year.

GMB says work is needed to reduce air pollution exposure for refuse workers

GMB says work is needed to reduce air pollution exposure for refuse workers

As a result, GMB says councils must increase air pollution monitoring and do more to protect refuse and street cleaning workers, who the union claims are being exposed to high levels of air pollution, which can exacerbate or cause a range of lung and respiratory problems.

The European Union sets safe nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels at an average of 40ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre) in a year.

But, presented at the GMB congress in Nottingham yesterday (June 8), the results of the nitrogen dioxide study found that the EU limit was breached in the capital at Bloomsbury (51ug/m3), Camden (67), Haringey (43), Hillingdon (64), Tower Hamlets (58), Marylebone Road (82) and Westminster (42).

Outside London, the limit was exceeded at: Aberdeen Union Street (46); Bath (56); Cambridge (41); Chepstow A48 (43); Glasgow (70); Headlingley in Leeds (45); Tyburn in Birmingham (45); Oxford city centre (49); and Scunthorpe Town (43). In addition, Manchester Piccadilly (39) and Leeds Centre (38) recorded levels of the pollutant very near to the safe limit.

It comes a month after the union raised concerns about refuse worker exposure to another air pollutant — particulate matter (PM10) — across the UK. GMB research found no areas to be in breach of EU limits for PM10, but it said that levels were still too high in many places and called for a ban on high polluting vehicles in city centres and improved public transport and cycling facilities (see air story).


Speaking in Nottingham, John McClean — GMB national health, safety and environment officer — said: “These figures on nitrogen dioxide confirm the urgent need for better air quality monitoring in urban and built up areas. Clean air should be a right, not a privilege.”
He said that road transport was a major cause of air pollution, but that although emissions technology is improving, exposure levels are still “dangerously high” and actions is needed “now” to tackle the problem.

Mr McClean added: “Localised monitoring has shown some areas with extremely high levels of pollutants. So councils should do more monitoring to identify areas and times of day with high levels of pollutants. Doctor’s surgeries should have information on display making vulnerable people aware of these areas.

“Contractors and councils should consider installing monitoring equipment on wagons and barrows. They should look at designing street cleaning and refuse collection routes to avoid the times in the areas with the highest levels of pollutants.”


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