Air pollution has become one of the major issues of the day – and it’s no wonder.
The impact of poor air quality cuts across health and environmental concerns, with a respected report suggesting that air pollution in the UK results in around 40,000 premature deaths a year from associated respiratory and cardiovascular problems.
In an ongoing legal case, the death of a child with asthma in one of London’s most polluted areas has been strongly associated with local pollution ‘spikes’.
It’s clear that the human impacts of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter in the air around us has the potential to be significant. Yet the UK is lagging behind in tackling the issue.
In the 43 areas where air pollution is monitored in the UK, 31 have been found in breach of European regulations. Within those areas that exceeded the limits, road transport is responsible for 80% of NOx pollutants.
Everyone is potentially at risk from polluted air – but some people are more likely to be affected than others. It’s especially harmful to those living with lung and heart conditions, as well as children and older people.
There are ways to look after yourself and your loved ones during periods of high pollution – but first you’ve got to know when those times are. There are, fortunately, a number of places where such information is available.
You can find out about air quality near you – as well as an ‘air pollution forecast’ for the days ahead – by checking out the UK Government’s dedicated air quality website. Londoners can get an even more detailed breakdown of pollution levels on the via London Air, while there are also live statistics available from the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.
Then, there are steps you can take to cut the risk to you and your family. Using your car less in favour of walking or cycling is a great start, as it means you’re both reducing your contribution to air pollution and reducing your personal exposure to it.
Being on foot or two wheels also means you can take to the back streets, avoiding highly polluted major thoroughfares. It’s worth remembering, though, that while a bit of light exercise is great, it’s worth avoiding anything too strenuous when pollution is at its highest.
To reduce the air quality impact of your driving, regular servicing and well-inflated tyres are key. It’s also important to switch off your engine when the vehicle is stationary, preventing air pollution from what’s known as ‘idling’. At home, you should avoid using wood-burning stoves except during the coldest months.
For more tips and resources to help you do your bit, visit the Clean Air Day website.
It’s clear that deep and long-lasting measures need to be taken to tackle this national issue. Internal combustion engine vehicles, in particular older diesel vehicles, are a major factor in air pollution – and there needs to be an accelerated move towards low-emission driving options such as electric vehicles (EVs), which have zero tailpipe emissions.
If you’re considering a new vehicle, it’s worth factoring in the additional fuel cost savings that come over the life of a low-emission vehicle, as well as the positive of contributing to cleaner air. You can find a guide to the different types of EV available on the dedicated Energy Saving Trust webpage, plus a search tool with information to help compare the range and performance of different models of vehicle on the market.
For EVs to truly become part of the mainstream, though, suitable infrastructure needs to be put in in place to make it as convenient as possible for drivers. Energy Saving Trust is working in partnership with the Department for Transport to help local authorities and business fleets do just that.
Matthew Eastwood, Head of Transport, explained: “We help local authorities across the UK access funding for chargepoints in areas without off-street parking and advise organisations of all kinds on the practicalities of adopting EVs and deliver a scheme which independently certifies heavy goods vehicles, buses and coaches that have been adapted to reduce emissions. We also train dealers in selling second-hand electric cars – the first scheme of its kind.”
“In Scotland, with funding from Transport Scotland we offer grants for workplace charging infrastructure and we offer interest-free loans for electric vehicles ranging from pedal-assisted electric bikes, cars and vans up to buses and heavy goods vehicles.”
Recently, a partnership was also announced with the Office of Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV) to get charging infrastructure for electric taxis installed in local authority areas. This addresses a key part of urban pollution, as taxis tend to congregate in areas where there are high numbers of pedestrians.
Eastwood added: “Although there is still a long way to go, we’re pleased to offer independent, impartial and pragmatic advice and manage programme that helps accelerate the switch to sustainable travel and cleaner vehicles, delivering better air quality for everyone.”