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Air quality experts and campaigners gather to face air pollution threat

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Leading campaigners, experts and other key figures met to discuss how we can tackle air pollution, at this year’s Northern Air Quality News in Manchester on 25 May, ahead of Clean Air Day on 16 June.


Speakers at this year’s event included Dr Maria Neira, director of the Department of Public Health and Environment at the World Health Organization, Polly Billington, CEO of UK100, a network of local leaders committed to net zero climate action, and Sarah Woolnough, CEO of Asthma + Lung UK.

The British Safety Council attended the conference, as part of its Time to Breathe campaign, which seeks to raise awareness of the risks air pollution poses to outdoor workers. Head of policy and campaigns, Stephen Cooke, took part in a day of discussions and debate about how we can improve air quality both in the UK and around the world.

While there is clearly a healthy debate on air pollution, the problem of unhealthy, dirty air persists. Photograph: Stephen Cooke / British Safety Council

Stephen said: “While there is clearly a healthy debate – as was the case at this event – about how we can best improve our air quality and cut pollution, everyone in the room agreed that air pollution remains the biggest environmental threat to human health here and overseas and that breathing clean air should be a right, not a privilege.

“What also galvanised people to take more action were the government’s proposed air quality targets in its Environment Act consultation. One of the two targets would only require the UK to reach a limit on small particulate matter in 2040 that the WHO set a full 35 years before. Individuals or organisations are encouraged to use an online tool on the Asthma + Lung UK website which makes it easy to read the information and respond.”

Commenting on the UK’s proposed targets, Dr Maria Neira, who joined the event online, said: “We welcome any shift in the right direction, and would like the WHO standards to be recognised in the Environment Act. But is it enough? No. How many lives are you willing to lose? What is the number you are willing to accept?”

Imogen Martineau, portfolio manager for the UK at the Clean Air Fund, outlined a new campaign approach that the organisation is considering adopting based on insight about attitudes to air pollution. They would target 50 key constituencies with a message about the ‘dirty secret’ threatening local communities which politicians and businesses know but are doing nothing about.

In a sign of the differing approaches being taken around the country to tackling air pollution, Paul Farrell, Clean Air Plan programme manager at Liverpool City Council, revealed to the conference that the city would not now be introducing a clean air zone (CAZ), having spent four years investigating one. Sally Jones from Bradford Metropolitan Council outlined the benefits they had seen from the CAZ they introduced earlier this year.

Bradford decided its CAZ would cover HGV, coaches, buses, LGV, minibuses, hackney carriage and private hire vehicles but not passenger cars and it includes the outer ring road as well as the city centre.

You can access the Asthma + Lung UK consultation tool here:
envirotarget.uk/asthma-lung-uk

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