The Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond delivered his Autumn Budget to British Parliament on 22 November 2017, announcing new measures to address air pollution, which included a vehicle excise duty increase for new diesel cars not meeting emissions limits. The extra income will be invested in the £22m clean air fund.(1)
Driverless cars were praised as being part of cutting-edge UK technology and an additional £400m investment is to be put into electric cars.
While this is a much-needed response, much more needs to be done.
Diesel is responsible for 80% of harmful nitrogen oxide air pollution coming from our roads. All the main car manufacturers are breaching European nitrogen oxide limits – by more than nine times for Renault and more than six times for Ford. In fact, levels of nitrogen dioxide – or NO2 – in the UK have broken legal limits every year since 2010.
The UK’s target for a ban in all petrol and diesel cars by 2040 actually falls well behind the rest of the world with Norway, China, Germany, and India aiming for a ban by 2025.(2)
Everyone is affected by high levels of nitrogen dioxide. Health is majorly impacted by air pollution. Worst affected are the most vulnerable; namely children. Air pollution contributes to asthma in otherwise healthy children and also stunts lung growth.
Research published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Open also linked air pollution to increased mental illness in children. The results found that even a small increase in air pollution is associated with a substantial increase in psychiatric problems.(3)
There is growing evidence that air pollution can affect mental and cognitive health and that children are particularly vulnerable to poor air quality. There have also been several earlier studies that found associations between air pollution and autism spectrum disorders and learning and development in children.(4)(5)
This new study builds on existing evidence that children are particularly sensitive to poor air quality, most likely because they are more active and breathe in more polluted air as they run around. Their growing organs are also more vulnerable until they become fully developed.
We are dependent on authorities to guarantee our right to clean air. Earlier this year, a joint investigation by the Guardian and Greenpeace revealed that hundreds of thousands of children in the UK are being exposed to illegal levels of damaging air pollution from diesel vehicles at schools and nurseries. According to the study, more than 2,000 schools and nurseries across the UK are located close to roads with illegal levels of pollution.
1. Practical Solutions
Reducing the levels of pollution – especially around schools and nurseries where levels are high – is hugely important.
2. No Idling Zones Outside Schools
NICE and Public Health England (PHE) published a report aimed at helping councils reduce pollution by setting up ‘No idling zones’. The rules are aimed at lowering air pollution and parents are fined for not turning off their car engine when waiting outside the school.(6)
This is part of a scheme to reduce pollution in areas where people are most vulnerable to the effects of petrol and diesel fumes. Last month, London mayor Sadiq Khan introduced a T-charge on gas-guzzling cars to tackle air pollution.
Westminster City Council in London is one local authority that has already introduced no-idling zones, with drivers fined up to £80 if they break the rules. The council revealed that a car idling for one minute produces enough harmful chemicals to fill 150 balloons.
3. Giving Drivers Advice On How To Reduce Emissions
- Stopping fast accelerations and decelerations
- Providing ample charge points for electric vehicles
- Promoting car sharing at schools
4. Installing Air Quality Units In Schools
Indoor pollution can be just as damaging as outdoor pollution because the levels are often more concentrated. It is not only outdoor air pollution which is harmful to children – their cognitive behavior is also affected by indoor pollution and fumes coming from traffic outside into the building.
Buildings are encouraged to be airtight to prevent the uncontrolled ingress of contaminated outdoor air and all occupied areas in a school building must have controllable ventilation.
Schools can do this by investing in air quality units and including plants in the classrooms that naturally purify the air (such as spider plants).
5. Use Apps To Avoid High Pollution Routes To School
A number of apps can help you measure levels of pollution so you know when is ideal to go out:
- CleanSpace Air Pollution app shows you pollution in the air, both inside and outside
- Plume Air Report tells you the pollution rates and you can actually see how the pollution is going to change next, so you can plan activities around it
- CityAir tells you when the pollution level is high and gives you tips on how to reduce your emissions and exposure
6. Energy Saving Appliances In Schools
Increasing efficiency in schools means focusing on ventilation and lighting, heating and also appliances. It is important for schools to maintain efficient appliances and replace old appliances with using energy-saving computers, monitors, printers, fax machines, copiers or kitchen appliances.(7)
Examples of energy saving also include turning down a thermostat in the winter or walking to school rather than driving. The most effective measures to save energy include increasing insulation, draught proofing, installing double-glazed windows and switching to energy-saving light bulbs. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) estimates that these improvements could reduce annual CO2 emissions from British homes by around 17 million tonnes by 2020.(8)
The recent reports show evidence of the severe impact of child mental health problems, and the preventable association of exposure to air pollution deserves our precedence on a global scale.
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