The everyday danger of formaldehyde

On 6th September, the APPG on Air Pollution held a meeting on the subject of Indoor Air Pollution. At the meeting, the Group heard an impassioned statement from a member of the public about their personal experience of formaldehyde contamination in their home. The full statement can be read below:

‘My husband & I hope that the APPG on Air Pollution will lead to a situation where the health & safety of residents is as strongly protected as that of workers under the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) – whose air quality standards is protected. We’d like to tell you what happened to us.

Last year we had luxury bedroom cabinets fitted which caused air pollution in our bedroom to exceed 13 x World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for Formaldehyde, 18 x UK Building Regulations for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and 5 x WHO limits for Styrene. This was no one-off accident by our supplier. They told us that fumes which caused eye stinging were quite normal in their 20 year experience of making cabinets.

Experts said the problem would not necessarily go away with time.  BRE (the former government Building Research Establishment) said that chemical reactions between different components of our cabinets -(MDF, glues, lacquer, paint, filler etc…) could cause formaldehyde emissions to be continuously produced for years.

We reported our case to Trading Standards who, we hoped, would stop the company doing similar work in our community; which at the time they were doing. But Trading Standards did not act for more than a year and we do not think they can stop these indoor poisonings. They have told us that the best outcome we can hope for is a promise by the company never to do it again. But how will consumers know if they do?

We have researched this issue thoroughly, particularly that of formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products like MDF (which cause cancer according to the WHO & the International agency for Research on Cancer, IARC) with the support of our MP Ruth Cadbury. We feel the only answer is to regulate so that only MDF which emits ZERO formaldehyde can be used in homes.

Formaldehyde is a silent killer. Except at extremely high levels it is indistinguishable from the smell of fresh paint. Whereas carbon monoxide poisoning or house dust mites cause immediate symptoms, the cancers formaldehyde causes may take years to develop.

We were able to afford to pay for the BRE’s gold standard air quality tests and as a result had our expensive new bedroom ripped out two weeks after installation. More than a year on we are still trying to get our money back from the supplier.

None of this would have happened if only zero-emitting MDF was allowed to be used in our home.

We very much hope that members of this Indoor Air Quality panel will consider our case in their future deliberations on this issue and perhaps even assist us in bringing our case to the attention of the National Institutes for Clinical Excellence (NICE), which is currently developing its ‘Indoor Air Quality at Home’ guidelines.’

The APPG on Air Pollution is sponsored by Airtopia


Airtopia provides affordable domestic air quality tests to help people breathe easy in healthier homes.

Find out more here

‘Protecting Air Quality After Brexit’ – Meeting Notes

Notes on ‘Protecting Air Quality after Brexit’ held on 19th June 2018

Geraint Davies MP, Chair of the APPG, commenced proceedings and thanked the panellists and the sponsors of the APPG, Airtopia.

Professor Stephen Holgate, Royal College of Physicians

On the health impacts of air pollution:

  • The negative health impacts of air pollution occur across the life course and can begin at conception.
  • Both long-term exposure and acute air pollution episodes are linked to poor health.
  • Exposure to air pollution in infancy can damage the lungs, and increase the risk of lung infections that may be fatal.
  • Air pollution is linked to reduced lung function in children and adults, lung cancer in adulthood and the development of new onset asthma as well as exacerbating asthma in those who already live with the condition.
  • Air pollution is also an issue of health inequality. The most vulnerable groups – namely people living in deprived areas, children, older people living with chronic long-term conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and cardiovascular diseases – suffer the most harm.
  • There is no level of exposure to air pollution that is safe with multiple organs being affected.
  • Whilst a number of sectors contribute to the UK’s poor air quality, road transport (and especially diesel combustion from older vehicles) is responsible for a high proportion of the burden of disease.

On the impact of Brexit specifically:

  • Air pollution limits set by the EU will technically remain in UK law after Brexit, having been enshrined through the Air Quality Standards Regulation. But the Royal College of Physicians is concerned that the EU will no longer have a role in enforcement and the UK government would therefore be free to repeal the existing limits and introduce weaker air quality rules, and review any deadlines for meeting them.
  • Brexit could also be used as an opportunity to strengthen air quality standards in the UK by adopting revised limits based on World Health Organization guidelines which are driven solely by the available health evidence and set much tighter standards for a number of pollutants.

Amy Mount, Head of Greener UK

  • Greener UK is a group of 13 major environmental organisations with a combined public membership of 7.9 million. They are campaigning to make Brexit an opportunity to enhance and restore the natural environment.
  • 80% of environmental policy stems from EU law.
  • Greener UK have produced a risk tracker which shows which environmental areas are most at risk from being negatively affected by Brexit. Air quality is currently considered to be “red” risk rating because the UK is currently failing to meet its commitments.
  • In general, Greener UK are campaigning for:
    • Continued UK-EU co-operation, e.g. on trans-boundary air pollution.
    • High standards across UK and EU
    • The new green watchdog to have the same enforcement powers as the EU, to take the government to account
    • A new ambitious Environment Act with clean air goals and other objectives
  • On the green watchdog specifically, Greener UK are urging government to ensure that the new body:
    • Has enforcement powers to initiate and intervene in legal proceedings
    • Includes a citizen’s complaints mechanism
    • Includes climate change into its remit
    • Applies to public authorities as well as central government
    • Is guaranteed independence from government interference


Katherine Neild, Clean Air Lawyer, ClientEarth

Both the legislative and governance drivers for action to tackle air pollution in this country have come from the EU – in the form of:

  1. The Ambient Air Quality Directive – this sets limit values and mandates action where these limits are breached. It is now 8 years since the UK was meant to comply with nitrogen dioxide limits, yet the government is still failing to meet its obligations; and
  2. The European Commission and the CJEU – the UK has recently been referred to the CJEU by the European Commission over its failure to meet its obligations under the Ambient Air Quality Directive.

When these fall away following exit from the EU, there is real risk that ambition on air quality will wane.

However, there is now a real opportunity for the UK not just to fill the gaps left following Brexit, but to improve on the existing structures.  To do so, we need a new Clean Air Act that is fit for the 21 Century, backed up by an environmental watchdog with teeth.

ClientEarth’s suggestions for a new Clean Air Act:

  1. Adopt more ambitious air quality standards based on the latest scientific evidence
  • Merely carrying over existing limit values is not enough.
  • Limit values set out in the Ambient Air Quality Directive do not reflect the guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO), particularly for particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5).
  • To ensure that people’s health is protected in line with the latest scientific evidence, a new Clean Air Act should adopt binding limit values that correspond to the latest WHO standards and provide a mechanism whereby those limit values can be revised down or new pollutants added to the list where new evidence comes to light.
  • Even if the existing implementing Regulations are carried over post-Brexit, there is concern that retained law will not be properly secured against future modification by statutory instrument. Without new primary legislation, existing standards could easily be relaxed.
  1. Enshrine the right to breathe clean air into domestic law and guarantee access to the courts to enforce that right
  • The Act should enshrine peoples’ right to clean air, in line with limit values.
  • It should provide a quick and affordable mechanism for the public and NGOs to enforce this right, allowing the substantive review of air quality plans and providing effective judicial remedies.
  • ClientEarth’s legal action has been instrumental in holding the government to account over their inadequate air quality plans. Whilst giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee earlier this year, Michael Gove himself recognised that ClientEarth’s legal action demonstrated that the courts are a “very effective tool for making sure Government is kept to the mark”. Maintaining this tool is vital.
  1. Consolidate and clarify existing legislation
  • Air quality legislation has evolved in a relatively piecemeal manner. Powers and duties are located in different Acts and Regulations and it is often difficult to identify the mechanisms by which central government, devolved administrations, metro mayors, local authorities can be held to account and how citizens can ensure the air they breathe is clean.  We need a new single piece of primary legislation that consolidates and clarifies.
  • Defra’s draft Clean Air Strategy contains a commitment to bring forward “long-standing frameworks for local and national action on air pollution into the 21st century with stronger powers and clearer accountability”. This is absolutely necessary, but the devil will be in the detail.
  • The UK Government’s latest approach to address illegal levels of roadside NO2 across the country has been to pass down responsibility to individual English local authorities. In many cases, these local authorities are concerned that they do not have the necessary powers or resources to implement the measures required to tackle the issue.
  • Central government has a duty to take action to address what it has recognised as the “biggest environmental risk to public health in the UK”. The government must not simply pass responsibility to local authorities that are already under strain and do not have the resources, expertise or policy levers to address this problem alone.
  • Where responsibility is imposed on local authorities to take action, they will need to be given the funding, support and powers to do so effectively.

Prof. Roland Leigh, Technical Director, EarthSense

EarthSense was born from 15 years of air quality research at the University of Leicester, and was created to bring some cutting-edge techniques into the operational environment with the aim of:

  1. contributing to resolving the current air quality crisis
  2. promoting sustainable development and clean technologies
  3. encouraging societal benefit and economic growth.
  • Any relaxation of air quality legislation, additional leniency shown for non-compliance, or even perception thereof, would be highly damaging to a wide range of industries across the UK. If the UK trails other countries in this area, our industry will look to other countries for existing solutions, and our international competitiveness will diminish.
  • Our export power reduces further as our perceived environmental credentials weaken, and we struggle to deliver services across the world from a country which is perceived as weak in terms of air quality. The environmental monitoring sector would be heavily affected. In general, strict regulations drive innovation across the environmental sector and others such as automotive and engineer.
  • The government encourage, stimulate and initiate innovation through clean and demanding legislation. However, softer approaches must also be utilised, including the encouragement of industrial best practice in the area through accreditation schemes and intelligent public procurement.

On monitoring

  • The current EU metrics for air quality are based on relatively old techniques and technologies. A single number for a few pollutants are used to report on entire urban areas with hundreds of thousands of people.
  • But consistent methodologies for measurement and modelling allow trends over time to be reliably tracked without concerns over the impact of any changes in measurement technique.
  • We should therefore look to continue this baseline requirement for monitoring and build on it with innovative solutions which provide better decision-making information, and a more robust appreciation of the actual human health impact of any pollution.

On metrics

  • The headline figures demonstrating the impact of air pollution – deaths per annum and economic impact, should be reported annually and tracked to understand the effectiveness of our interventions. The methodology could be updated with our best understanding of where the pollution is and what the indoor situation is?
  • Monitoring these metrics could be a role of the new environmental watchdog body. Failure to meet targets could result in ring-fenced fines being allocated towards air quality initiatives.

Earlier this year, EarthSense also launched a pollution post code checker in collaboration with the BBC. Approximately 2 million people used this facility in the first 48 hours. This shows the very significant public interest in this issue.

EarthSense advocate that the UK should build on EU legislation beyond Brexit to genuinely protect human health, stimulate growth and healthy competitiveness. The creation of sustainable cities of the future is critical for the global community, and the UK should be at the cutting edge.

Discussion followed. Some key points raised were:

  • There was a discussion around the need for better public engagement as to the issue of air pollution. It was suggested that an appropriate way of doing this would be through the medical profession, and particularly general practitioners.
  • Delegates noted that while electric vehicles were certainly a step in the right direction in terms of reducing harmful emissions, it was also critical to reduce the number of private vehicles on the road, and promote active travel (walking & cycling), public transport, and shared ownership (e.g. car clubs)
  • A delegate noted the importance of recognising indoor air quality as a separate and equally as significant issue as transport emissions, considering people spend the majority of their time indoors.



Chair of APPG on Air Pollution responds to announcement of Clean Air Strategy

1200px-Official_portrait_of_Geraint_Davies_crop_2Geraint Davies MP, the newly-elected Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution, responded to the launch of the Defra consultation on the draft Air Quality Strategy as follows:

“The UK Government is in the dock of European Court of Justice because 40,000 premature UK deaths are caused by air pollution each year. Despite this, Michael Gove is not taking the crisis seriously. He knows that, if we leave the EU, safeguards against toxic levels of air pollution will no longer be in place.

“We urgently need a Clean Air Act. Instead, the Government wants to hide the problem in an Environment Act and evade their responsibility to tackle a problem which already costs the economy £20 billion a year. We need to create a manufacturing environment which inspires cutting edge green technology for world-wide exports, not an out-dated industrial backwater with old machinery in chronic decay. Michael Gove should take this seriously for the sake of our environment, economy and public health.”


On May 2nd 2018, the APPG on Air Pollution held an Extraordinary General Meeting as Matthew Pennycook MP announced he would be stepping down from the role of Chair.

After a ballot, Geraint Davies MP, Labour MP for Swansea West, was elected as the new Chair of the Group.

He commented:

“I am absolutely delighted to be elected the new chair of the APPG for Air Pollution. Toxic emissions cause 40,000 early deaths each year, and the Government has been taken to court for failing to meet air quality standards. The case for urgent change is overwhelming.

I previously authored the Clean Air Bill to be re-published in June as a blueprint for action. Meanwhile I’m working with MPs from across the Council of Europe and with the devolved administrations on gathering best practice. The Royal College of Physicians supports the Bill.

We won’t let Brexit become a vehicle to dumb down standards or an excuse to evade responsibility. We all have a right to clean Air and the APPG exists to hold the Government to account on air pollution, drawing on expertise from research and industry.”

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, Green, was also elected as a Vice-Chair.

2018: A vital year for the UK government and air quality

Mo Saqib is the Policy & Communications Officer at London-based clean cold specialists Dearman

Mo-SaqibLast week, Dearman was invited to present at the APPG on Air Pollution’s workshop ‘Technology options for combating vehicle emissions’ held in Portcullis House. The event was well-timed given all the policy currently being developed to reduce harmful levels of emissions across Britain.

The showcase was hosted by APPG Chair Matthew Pennycook MP, and gave us a chance to meet a number of policymakers, such as Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald MP, and former Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey MP. All of them are of course seeking to influence steps the UK government is taking to reduce air pollution. So what does 2018 hold on the policy front?

The strong arm of the law

After Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £220 million Clean Air Fund in the Autumn Budget, 2017 ended with the publication of the government’s Industrial Strategy, which commendably has Clean Growth as one of its four Grand Challenges.

But we began 2018 with the European Commission asking environment ministers from nine EU countries- including the UK- to attend a summit and explain what steps they were taking to reduce air pollution. All nine countries were chosen as they face potential legal action from the EU for breaching agreed air pollution limits. It won’t be until mid-March till we find out whether the Commission is satisfied with the plans that were eventually submitted- if not, a referral to the European Court of Justice awaits for countries falling short.

Similarly, we also await a court ruling imminent this month, in a case brought by environmental lawyers ClientEarth, about whether the UK government’s air quality plan needs to go further. Will ministers be forced to demand more from 45 local authorities with illegal levels of air pollution? These 45 are identified as having illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide emissions, according to modelling from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). If ClientEarth wins, it will be the third time it has successfully sued the government and forced it to do more on tackling air pollution.

Major initiatives?

There is also the government’s additional Clean Air Strategy. The air quality plan that ClientEarth is suing DEFRA over is focussed on reducing nitrogen dioxide emissions from transport sources. The Clean Air Strategy will be much wider and will seek to tackle pollution from all sources, not just transport.  A consultation on the strategy is expected to launch in the Spring, with the strategy itself being launched later this year. Part of the consultation is likely to consider whether more can be done to tackle emissions from non-road mobile machinery (NRMM), and this includes transport refrigeration units (TRUs). There are a number of zero-emission TRUs on the market, including Dearman’s, and, given the very high levels of pollution from diesel TRUs, it is vital the Clean Air Strategy takes steps to encourage a take-up of zero-emission TRUs.

We also have the government review of red diesel use in urban areas. As we at Dearman have long argued, it is illogical for government to subsidise diesel, for example, in delivery trucks’ weakly regulated secondary engines, while a number of zero emission alternatives are available and affordable. Government is effectively subsidising the disproportionate nitrogen oxide and particulate matter pollution from these secondary diesel engines. Chancellor Philip Hammond was right to launch the red diesel consultation last March, and we understand that draft proposals will be brought forward this year. These proposals will be a real opportunity to encourage a transition to cleaner technologies and we hope this opportunity will not be missed.

Add in initiatives from city mayors, such as London’s Sadiq Khan bringing forward his plans for an Ultra-Low Emission Zone, the UK government developing proposals for a post-Brexit ‘green regulator’, and the Scottish and Welsh governments also taking additional steps, the overall picture shows a great many policy initiatives being worked on as we speak. If policymakers are to tackle air pollution, 2018 will be a vital year. Let’s see if they deliver.

This article was also published on


Improving Air Quality After Brexit – Report Launch and Panel Session

On Tuesday 12th December, the APPG on Air Pollution launched a report from the Environmental Industries Commission, the main UK trade body for the environmental sector, and Aether, a leading air quality consultancy. The report proposes an approach
to regulating air pollution post-Brexit which includes the adoption of global best practice such as requiring public authorities to continuously reduce the levels of pollutants such as Particulate Matter where there is no known safe level.

The event began with an outline of the report by Tim Williamson, Principal Consultant at Aether, and was followed by a panel session with presentations from:

Amy Mount, Head of Greener UK Unit at Green Alliance

Derek Osborn, Former Chair of the European Environment Agency

Matthew Pencharz, Former Deputy Mayor of London for Environment and Energy

Matthew Farrow, Executive Director, EIC

See here for a digital copy of the report

See below for an audio recording of the session:




Who wants a Clean Air Zone?

Lots of people should want a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) for their town or city. A Clean Air Zone – where the dirtiest vehicles are restricted from the most polluted places – will help protect people’s health by making their illegally filthy air breathable again. And in the process, an effective one will make the place more attractive to live, work in, and visit.

As the government acknowledges, road traffic is the main issue for our illegal air, with diesels vehicles the worst of all – and cars are a particular problem. They also acknowledge that the fastest, and most effective way to deal with the issue is to introduce Clean Air Zones, and that doing so where pollution levels are worst will disproportionately benefit the more deprived and ethnically diverse groups.

Friends of the Earth wants to see strong Clean Air Zones in 53 locations in England. These are places which government modelling shows would otherwise still have illegal levels of the toxic gas NO2 in 2019. Further places in the Devolved Administrations also fit this criteria.

However, surprisingly, the government’s Air Quality Plan didn’t require any new Clean Air Zones. Instead they just asked some Local Authorities to submit Local Action Plans. These plans have to consider whether other measures could be as effective – despite their own evidence saying Clean Air Zones would bring down dirty air fastest. In effect, ministers are making Clean Air Zones the measure of last resort.

2010 was the original deadline for NO2 air pollution to be brought down to legal levels across the UK. It’s seven years later and we’re still waiting.

With 40,000 early deaths from air pollution each year, children growing up with lungs stunted by dirty air, and huge amounts of ill-health and suffering, we simply don’t have time to wait. As well as pursuing whatever action can be taken straight away, all of the places producing a Local Action Plan should be required to implement a Clean Air Zone.

Friends of the Earth’s view is that strong and effective Clean Air Zones need to:

  • be properly funded by government
  • apply to all vehicle types including cars
  • carry financial penalty sufficient to effectively ban nearly all of the worst polluting vehicles from those areas
  • be based on what vehicles emit in real world driving conditions
  • be introduced by the end of 2018

But as well separate arrangements for London, and 5 Clean Air Zones already being planned – all of which need strengthening – there are more towns and cities due to have illegal air until at least 2019. Friends of the Earth believes these should also get such a Clean Air Zone, taking the total to 53 in England.

Indeed places with an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) for NO2 should also be considered for Clean Air Zones. AQMAs have declared levels of NO2 over the same level as that set for the legal limit, so there’s no good reason they should be treated differently.

The introduction of Clean Air Zones is vital in the fight for clean air but they also need to be supported by government action which helps people to move away from the most polluting vehicles. This includes; better infrastructure for electric vehicles, changes to VED to end diesel incentives, and a scrappage scheme – part funded by the manufacturers – to help people who bought diesels in good faith. This must include offers of not just cleaner vehicles but also alternatives such as car club membership, rail season tickets and cycle loans.

But we don’t only need cleaner vehicles, we need fewer of them too. There’s no such thing as a 100% clean car. All vehicles, even if they produce no exhaust emissions, release fine particle pollution from tire and brake wear. As a result, we also need to design our communities better, so that they are no longer based around the car.

The key is in how we plan and regenerate our communities. We need to reduce the need for people to have to travel unnecessarily by ensuring key amenities and work opportunities are within easy walking and cycling distance, with good public transport nearby for longer journeys. This will require investment by both central and local government in better public transport, safer cycling and walking – as well as ensuring that new traffic-generating schemes don’t add to the air pollution problem.

Only then, with such a combination of action, can we deliver liveable towns and cities with the air fit to breathe we all want.

Jenny Bates is an Air Pollution Campaigner at Friends of the Earth



‘Implementing the Air Quality Plan and Clean Air Zones’: Audio

Chair: Matthew Pennycook MP

Dr. Guy Hitchcock from Ricardo Energy and Environment, who leads work in supporting local authorities plan their Clean Air Zones,

Councillor Adele Morris, Deputy Chair of the Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport Board of the Local Government Association and Liberal Democrat Councillor for Southwark

Steven Salmon, Director of Policy Development, Confederation of Passenger Transport

Holly Lynch MP, Shadow DEFRA Minister


Air Pollution: Vehicle Emissions and London’s T-Charge

On the 19th October the APPG on Air Pollution ran a joint event with the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, the Grantham Institute and the Royal Metereological Society, focusing on vehicle emissions and their impact on air pollution.

To read a summary of the event, please visit the APPCCG website here.

A quick win for ministers on air pollution? Cleaner delivery trucks

A quick win for ministers on air pollution? Cleaner delivery trucks

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has sent out the right signals by announcing a ban on new diesel cars and vans from 2040, with the Scottish government aiming to do likewise by 2032. Despite these appropriate steps, an often-overlooked area- but with a significant and disproportionate negative impact- is transport refrigeration.

We have all seen the refrigerated delivery trucks that transport food and drink from farms and factories to our local supermarkets and restaurants. Many of these use not one, but two, diesel engines- the main engine at the front propelling the truck and the secondary engine keeping the back compartment cold. With extremely weak regulation on the secondary engine, it is allowed to be disproportionately polluting.

In fact, the secondary engine emits six times as much nitrogen oxide (NOx) as the main engine and 29 times as much particulate matter (PM). Drivers of diesel cars and vans will soon be looking to switch to electric or hybrid alternatives- but they will rightly wonder why heavily polluting secondary engines are still allowed on Britain’s roads.

The Dearman engine

To demonstrate the extent of their impact on air pollution, if Britain’s 84,000 transport refrigeration units (TRUs) became zero emission, it would be the particulate matter equivalent of taking 3.8 million Euro 6 diesel cars off our roads.

Tackling this would be a quick win for government- but how?

Simply put, these secondary engines are also allowed to use red diesel, on which government charges much less fuel duty compared to standard white diesel. This reduced level of tax also means the Treasury foregoes £126 million of revenue. A number of zero emission TRUs are affordably available on the market, but the availability of cheap red diesel disincentivises their take-up.

Ministers are beginning to realise the scale of the problem here and Chancellor Philip Hammond rightly launched a consultation earlier this year on red diesel use in urban areas. He must now go all the way and use his Autumn Budget statement to announce an end to red diesel use in transport refrigeration. Clawing back tax revenue, encouraging a shift to affordable clean alternatives, and making a quick impact all make this a strong and positive measure for him to pursue.

David Sanders is the Commercial Director of Dearman Engine Company