APPG on Air Pollution: responding to the guideline consultation

Tuesday 7 June 2022, 9.30-10.30am

The APPG on Air Pollution held a roundtable discussion over Zoom on the topic of ‘Responding to the guideline consultation’.

  • Geraint Davies MP, Chair
  • Professor Frank Kelly (Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health at Imperial College London)
  • Tim Dexer, Campaigns Manager, Asthma + Lung UK
  • Rahat Siddique, Senior Economist, CBI Economics
  • Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, Co-Founder of The Ella Roberta Family Foundation

Professor Frank Kelly

Work undertaken by the Environmental Research Group has shown that with current policies in place, the UK will likely achieve the WHO 10. µg/m3 for PM2.5 target by 2030 if a few further measures to accelerate mitigation of climate change are implemented. They argued that the Government should move the current target of 2040 forward to 2030 to send a really serious message about tackling air quality and climate change.

Tim Dexer

Asthma + Lung UK is fighting for everybody’s right to breathe, regardless of where they live in the country. Tim spoke about how frightening it can be for people to lose control of their lungs as a result of air pollution. They surveyed 1,100 people and 60% said that air pollution made them feel breathless, 51% said it made them feel queasy, 43% said it made their symptoms flare up and 7.8% said they had been hospitalised due to high air pollution levels. Tim added that in their recent annual asthma survey for 77.4% of people with asthma over three quarters said air pollution affected their health and wellbeing. 

The targets set in the Environment Act are a chance to usher in a sea change to the way in which we tackle fine particulate matter pollution. Tim said that if ambitious targets are set now, then activity can be catalysed across heavy industry, transport and heating. But there is a risk that if the 2024 target is kept in place, then it will mean business as usual and a more challenging transition.

Outside of London, major improvements are needed to public transport to deliver the newest and cleanest technologies into these places and not simply more polluting vehicles. But as shown in Greater Manchester, you need the right political will and policy levers to deliver. 

Asthma + Lung UK has developed a tool to take people through the consultation and explain the technicalities around PM2.5 and what the target could achieve. They also have an Early Day Motion calling for the WHO-10 PM2.5 targets to be met by 2030, which was launched by Angela Eagle MP.

Rahat Siddique

In 2020, CBI Economics researched the economic and health benefits of meeting the WHO guidelines for air quality. Tackling air pollution is less likely to be seen as a cost than previously and the benefits to individuals and businesses are now being understood. The research found that a £1.6 billion economic benefit could be achieved across the UK if WHO PM2.5 guidelines are met. This could translate into about 300 million working days gained and a prevention of about premature 17,000 deaths.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah

The Ella Roberta Foundation will be responding to the consultation and has already expressed to the Government that 2040 is not ambitious enough. Since Rosamund’s daughter passed away and way before that, the number of children dying has continued to remain high. If the Government does not take PM2.5 seriously, then more children will die prematurely. Rosamund emphasised the need for the wider public to respond to the consultation so it demonstrates to the Government how important this is to the whole country.

Geraint Davies

Geraint argued that PM2.5 by 2030 is achievable on the basis of current government policy on tackling air pollution, but more robust policy needed in relation to wood burning stoves, which account for nearly 40% of urban air pollution. He added that progress is being made on electric cars.

The latest figures show that there are around 64,000 premature deaths per year from air pollution. It remains the biggest killer in the world. The Royal College of Physicians said that poor air quality was costing the world economy £20 billion a year.

Monitoring is key and Geraint spoke about the role of air quality monitors outside schools. Once people know that the air quality outside schools is dangerous, it will affect public opinion on the action needed. The cost of living crisis presents a challenge in implementing clean air policy.

Q&A discussion

In response to the question about whether the Government should do more to legislate controls on air pollutants, Frank Kelly said that we shouldn’t be burning any form of solid fuel in urban areas anymore. The other issue is gas, which is also bad for health. The Government is aiming to replace the gas network with hydrogen and heat pumps, which will help to improve our air quality and mitigate climate change.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah said that the cost of living would be a huge factor, especially during the winter months and a strong response was needed to this. The October energy price rise will make this particularly challenging.

Rahat Siddique argued that there needed to be an acceleration of energy efficiency and retrofitting houses that could save households about £500. Analysis done with the Clean Air Fund found that a 5mg reduction would have major impacts on the local economy and improve people’s health. This is often lost in the conversation so the tangible health and economic gains from action on air pollution need pushing more.

Tim Dexer said that the cost of living crisis is a massive concern for people with lung conditions because people with lung conditions tend to suffer from poor economic circumstances. Choosing to turn to wood burning is a major concern. A large number of middle class households are also wood burning as a lifestyle choice and that’s why the case for better education is important.

Geraint Davies MP said that Baroness Jenny Jones has a Clean Air Bill coming to the House of Lords and he will be supporting it. He added that the main challenge was moving forward on clean air in the context of the cost of living crisis. This underlined the need for more financial support for low income households, particularly some of the 2.5 million people who use wood burning stoves.

Professor Frank Kelly made the point that the Government has always been very upfront on wanting to tackle climate change, but this isn’t joined up with action to address air pollution. The double benefit of tackling both issues in sync needs promoting better.

Geraint Davies MP suggested that there is a tendency for people to see air pollution benefits as a side benefit from climate action to meet Net Zero targets. But there needs to be an emphasis on families being at risk from heart and lung health issues. They added that flexible working had enabled a reduction in air pollution on roads and streets.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah added that the health and economic arguments for a 2030 PM2.5 target needed pushing more. This meant reaching out to the wider public to ensure they understand the consultation and issues surrounding air pollution.

Rahat Siddique made the point that the health and economic impacts are not in conflict with each other, as shown during the pandemic. The benefits to local workers and businesses of working from home have been clear..

Tim Daxer said that air pollution is an issue that affects absolutely everybody because we are all breathing it in and we are all impacted by it – children, people with lung conditions, the elderly, and much more. And that is why it is vital to protect those vulnerable groups. The Government has indicated that it will be moving away from modelling towards monitoring on the system. Modelling is important because that’s the only way to understand how vulnerable groups are impacted by air pollution.

Geraint Davies MP thanked the panellists and everyone who attended. There will be more data coming out on the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and how we can reach Net Zero more quickly by achieving the 2030 target. He also encouraged everyone to submit their responses to the consultation, especially on achieving the PM2.5 target by 2030.

APPG on Air Pollution – Clean Air Day Event 2022

No safe level: how air pollution is damaging the health of the population, how the health sector can respond to pollution, and what to do about it

Larissa Lockwood, Global Action Plan, opened up the event and wished everyone a Happy Clean Air Day. She added that the main theme of this year’s Clean Air Day is “Air pollution dirties every organ in your body. Take steps to improve your health this Clean Air Day.” 

Geraint Davies MP, Chair of the APPG, said that we need to urge the Government to be more ambitious in meeting the various air quality targets, in particular WHO-10 for PM2.5 by 2030 as opposed to 2040. He added that air pollution causes around 62,000 deaths a year and costs £20 billion a year to the economy in the UK. He said that renewable energy had a vital role to play in reducing air pollution and would be especially important during peak times for energy consumption.

Prof Stephen Holgate, University of Southampton and UK Clean Air Champion, highlighted some of the new areas of research in air pollution and human health. In addition to lungs and the cardiovascular system, air pollution has an effect on every single organ of the body and he described it as the most serious environmental issue for health. He referenced the WHO revised figures from September 2021 and the need to focus attention on human health.

Dr Mark Miller, University of Edinburgh, spoke about the impacts of air pollution on the cardiovascular system. He shared the Six Cities Study where six cities in America had similar demographics, but different levels of air pollution. The studies showed a clear link between the amount of particles in the air and the risk of dying of lung and heart disease. He added that there were more than 4.5 million deaths linked to outdoor air pollution and 7-9 million premature deaths every year due to air pollution across the world. He added that if you’re elderly or you have a health condition caused by air pollution, you will be at higher risk of death from spikes in air pollution. He said that they had been working with the British Heart Foundation to study how pollution causes damage to the cardiovascular system for a long time. He used the example of how diesel exhaust affects the cardiovascular system and human health. He also said that air pollution had a poor effect on blood vessels which feed cancer tumours, and exhausted circulating cells which help to repair our bodies and it’s been shown that pollutants like diesel exhaust change these cells. He finished by showing some of the ways in which individuals can change their lives to reduce exposure to air pollution and become healthier.

Dr Emilia Lim, The Francis Crick Institute, outlined the links between air pollution and lung cancer. Research has found a growing number of cases of lung cancer in non-smokers – about 15 to 20% of cases occur non-smokers, and this is a huge concern because 85% of people in the UK do not smoke. She added that most people live in places with air pollution levels that exceed WHO guidelines. In countries where air pollution levels were much higher than the UK, lung cancer levels correlated. But she said that the effects of air pollution are poorly understood, so they have investigated how mutations from micro environmental changes might impact lungs, such as regions of high air pollution versus those who live in areas of low air pollution.

Dr Tom Russ, University of Edinburgh, gave a presentation on the impacts of air pollution on brain health and dementia. He said that interest in the evolution stage of the brain has grown in recent years and every study suggests this is bad for the brain. He showed how ultra fine particles can have direct and indirect effects on the brain and inflammatory effects on the lungs. In terms of determining risk, he spoke about a study from Iceland, where they demonstrated something similar for the brain and the effect on cognitive development over a lifetime. Evidence has found that 2% of dementia cases could be prevented by tackling air pollution. Early life air pollution exposure may be important and studies are being done on historic air pollution levels going back to 1935 to assess the impacts on intelligence tests and long-term health. Dr Ross also added that dementia is a disease of the life course. It is not a disease of later life as it manifests itself in later life, but the brain changes start decades before the symptoms start.

Jo Churchill MP, DEFRA Minister, thanked everyone involved in Clean Air Day. She called for every day to be a Clean Air Day and said that the Government was “committed to protecting people from the dangers of air pollution, alongside driving down emissions and concentrations of harmful pollutants to their lowest levels since records began.” She said that the tragic death of Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013 had highlighted the importance of tackling air pollution. A new group had been established in the Government to comprehensively review how to communicate air quality information. She added that the Environment Act focuses on air quality targets and maximising improvements to public health. The Government is proposing a population exposure reduction target to support continuous improvement, even where concentration targets have already been achieved. She argued that this would on average cut people’s exposure to particulate matter over a third by 2014 compared to 2018 levels. While a 35% reduction was ambitious, she said it would contribute to a reduction of many 10,000s of cases of cardiovascular disease, strokes, asthma, lung cancer and other diseases over the course of 18 years. She thanked everyone who had engaged with the target consultation and sent valuable information into DEFRA and added that Clean Air Day brought people together on a vital issue. She finalised by asking everyone to have conversations with their family, friends and colleagues to consider what they could do to improve air quality. 

Larissa Lockwood, Global Action Plan, concluded by thanking everyone for attending the event and said that there are 300 formal support organisations involved in the Clean Air Day campaign. Information and resources from GAP will be shared after the event.

You can watch the Q&A section of the event here.

Invite: No safe level: how air pollution is damaging the health of the population and how the health sector can respond

To mark Clean Air Day, the APPG on Air Pollution is holding a virtual event with Environment Minister Jo Churchill MP on Thursday 16 June at 9-10am, to explore the impact of air pollution on cancer and lung, heart and brain health, and what can be done to protect patient and public health. It will be hosted by the APPG and supported by UK100 and environmental charity Global Action Plan.

Air pollution dirties every organ in our bodies. This event aims to explore the impact of air pollution on cancer and lung, heart and brain health, and what can be done to protect patient and public health.

Panellists:
– Geraint Davies MP, Chair of the APPG
– Professor Stephen Holgate, University of Southampton and UK Clean Air Champion
– Dr Mark Miller, University of Edinburgh
– Dr Emilia Liam, The Francis Crick Institute
– Dr Tom Russ, University of Edinburgh
– Larissa Lockwood, Global Action Plan

Specifically, this event seeks to:
– Broaden understanding that air pollution can affect the whole body, not just the lungs
– Engender a sense of urgency to act
– Give clear actions for the audience to act on air pollution to protect patient and public health

To RSVP, please register here. Please contact joe.porter@uk100.org if you need further information.

Roundtable with Environment Minister Jo Churchill

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution held a public roundtable with Environment Minister Jo Churchill to discuss the importance of improving air quality while reaching Net Zero. Almost 100 people tuned in to watch the Minister give a short update on the Government’s approach to cleaning up our air, and answer questions from three expert panellists. 

Watch the full discussion here:

APPG Chair Geraint Davies opened the event by highlighting the scale of the problem. Air pollution contributes to 63,000 deaths per year, and leads to costs of £20 billion. Evidence has shown that COVID-19 inflection rates had been worse in more polluted areas, and the pandemic also led to indoor air pollution being increasingly highlighted as a problem. The APPG and other pressure groups have been campaigning for WHO air quality standards to be adopted by the Government to address this continued risk to our public health.

Jo Churchill then gave her introductory comments, highlighting the opportunity to decrease carbon emissions and clean up our air simultaneously, as the two priorities should work hand in hand. She used the example of replacing fossil fuel combustion with technologies such as battery heat pumps, fuel cells and solar power, which are being pioneered by businesses across the UK. We all agree with this message, but questions followed about how the Government can do more to further this agenda.

Dr Eleni Michalopoulou responded with a question about what frameworks are in place to ensure good oversight of the integrated plan for air pollution and climate change. Jo Churchill and DEFRA Deputy Director Bill Parish gave more details about the ways in which different parts of the Government are seeking to work together, and how they are consulting with external groups as well. 

Geraint followed up by raising his concerns about biomass power stations, such the Drax Power Plant in Selby, which could have a particularly bad impact not only on air pollution, but on reducing carbon emissions (particularly as using trees for fuel removes their environmental benefits). He also raised concerns about the Government target of doubling incineration capacity by 2030. 

The Minister responded by highlighting that incineration, despite its faults, can be a preferable alternative to landfill, and can provide heat to provide power for businesses and households. She also reiterated her view that biomass can be a useful option, especially when utilising existing deadwood, and other sources for biofuel aside from wood.

Another key theme, raised by Professor Sir Stephen Holgate was public awareness. The Minister spoke about the role of Local Authorities and schools in targeting car idling. She also referenced Clean Air Zones, and how the positives and negatives need to be more clearly explained to the public in advance of their implementation. She and Bill Parish also highlighted that closer collaboration between Local Authorities and innovative technology companies can allow for better measuring of air quality, and the greater use of data in showing the results of local interventions, after the accessibility of data was raised by Vortex IoT CEO Adrian Sutton.

Thanks very much to the Minister for attending and to our panellists, Dr Eleni Michalopoulou, Professor Sir Stephen Holgate and Adrian Sutton for their excellent questions.

Event: Why improved air quality will help deliver Net Zero

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution will be joined by Environment Minister Jo Churchill to discuss the importance of improving air quality while reaching Net Zero. Expert panellists will join the MPs and peers to ask the Minister questions.

Decreasing carbon emissions and cleaning up our air are two priorities which should work hand in hand. By devolving greater powers and resources to local Government, we can address both issues in harmony.

By attending this event, you will have the chance to:

  • Hear from the Environment Minister Jo Churchill about her priorities regarding air quality.
  • Ask questions to a panel about how to advocate for cleaner air, and raise any concerns.
  • Learn more about how policies on air quality can compliment, rather than contradict, policies on Net Zero.
  • Learn more about the role of devolving powers in achieving both cleaner air and reduced emissions.

RSVP here

Email ben.andrew@uk100.org for more information and questions.

Meeting on Clean Air Policy Frameworks: Empowering Local Authorities to Act

The APPG on Air Pollution held a virtual roundtable which brought together local leaders and MPs to explore the limitations of the current air quality policy framework as well as what could be done nationally to enable local authorities to improve air quality for their communities.

Local leaders have been taking ambitious action to improve air quality, including introducing an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London which has led air pollution to reduce by around a third, and introducing a Clean Air Zone in York  which enabled York to meet its air quality targets and led diesel buses to be replaced by an electric fleet.

However, local leaders do not have sufficient powers or resources to sufficiently tackle air pollution in their localities, as they do not have the powers to address many of the sources of air pollution, such as banning wood burning stoves, or enough funding to transition their communities to low-carbon transportation.

This meeting explored the gaps in existing policy that governs action on air quality including the Clean Air Zone Framework and the Local Air Quality Management Framework, and how the policy framework could be improved to give local leaders the agency to seriously tackle air pollution for their communities.

Speakers included Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport & Environment at Birmingham City Council; Councillor Sarah Warren, Cabinet Member for Climate and Sustainable Travel at Bath and North East Somerset Council and Tom Parkes, Senior Air Quality Officer at the London Borough of Camden.

Watch the event in full here.