Cough it up: No relief from Air Pollution

Air is all around us. If you pollute one part of it the pollution moves to another part or spreads itself thinly over the whole world. In places air pollution is particularly bad. One of the most polluted places in London is the Euston Road, which runs on the north central part of the city. The East India Dock Road is also heavy with air pollution. We ought to control air pollution but we are not controlling it. The pollution arises from two sources – production of energy and transport. Both sources can be controlled to some extent but it is more expensive to control them properly and while we seek to control air pollution we permit technologies which will inevitably add to air pollution but will be hard to control, like biomass power stations and wood burning heating systems.

The United Kingdom has signed up to meeting European Union standards on air pollution. This is clearly part of the regulations required for a single market. If one part of the EU permits its industries and power stations to pollute the air without control that part will have cheaper energy and an economic advantage over the other parts which have air pollution properly controlled.

The Environmental Audit Committee is a select committee of the House of Commons and is charged with the duty of considering the extent to which government policies promote environmental protection and sustainability.

The Committee report the extensive cost of poor health caused by air pollution and complain that instead of limiting and controlling air pollution the government simply asks the EU for more and more time in which to comply with air pollution standards. It seems that most inhabitants of these Islands lose seven of eight years of life by breathing poor air and for some 200,000 the effect is to lose two years of life, with the last years in the misery of very poor health.

The Committee paint a very distressing picture of air pollution; they say that in 2008 4000 people died as a result of it in London and some 200,000 across the whole of the United Kingdom. It seems that air quality is out of the minds of most of us as we jump into our cars and buy goods transported in lorries and permit the government to allow wood burning power stations and to incentivise wood burning.

The problem with today’s pollution is that it rarely results in the United Kingdom in those old thermo-chemical smogs. In the 1950s you could see the smog, taste it and cough it up seeing the residues that your lungs tried to filter; today the diesel particulates and emissions of wood burning are in the main invisible and out of sight means out of mind, but not, unfortunately, out of your lungs.

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