Medical leaders pile pressure on Boris Johnson to slash legal air pollution levels
Prime minister Boris Johnson has been urged to cut legal levels of air pollution in the UK by the country’s top medical organisations in a letter today.
Following the death of London nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, the first person in the UK to have pollution listed as a cause of death, the World Health Organisation (WHO) refined air pollution limits.
Ahead of the environment bill returning to parliament this week, members of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change have voiced their concerns over pollution laws.
“Today, before the environment bill returns to the House of Lords, we urge your government to use this bill to make a legally binding commitment to reducing fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) in the UK to below the maximum level recommended by the WHO by 2030,” leaders of the British Medical Association, the Lancet, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and over 20 nursing colleges, wrote in a letter.
“Air pollution is among the greatest environmental determinants of health and contributes to many serious and chronic health conditions affecting every organ in the body. Despite this, the UK’s legal limits for PM2.5 pollution – some of the most damaging of all pollutants – are currently more than double the WHO recommended limit.”
Last week, the government responded to recommendations by the coroner in the inquest of Ella’s death in 2013, which were to cut levels to the WHO’s limits.
The government did not commit to the recommendations and instead pledged to hold a public consultation next January, looking at October next year to outline new air pollution targets.
Failure to slash pollution levels to legal limits possibly contributed to Ella’s death, a court heard, as did the failure to provide her mother with information about the potential for air pollution to exacerbate asthma.
The Royal College of Physicians estimated around 40,000 deaths a year may be attributed to air pollution, the letter highlighted.
The medical leaders added that NHS and Public Health England figures from the five years prior to the pandemic showed that five per cent of all deaths were attributable to PM2.5.
“Thousands more are living with health conditions caused or exacerbated by dirty air. Such lung conditions leave people more vulnerable to viruses such as Covid-19, so protecting the lung health of the public is a key element of the fight against the virus,” the letter read.
The UK’s upcoming COP26 offers an opportunity to tackle air pollution, which should go hand in hand with the UK’s net zero emissions goal of 2050, the letter said.
“The sources of fine particulate pollution – road transport, domestic and industrial burning – are also the sources of a significant proportion of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“We can therefore tackle the challenges of climate change and air pollution simultaneously…We must do so, if we are to meet your government’s commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”