Air pollution is a “public health crisis” that kills thousands of people each year, a report by MPs says.

The Environmental Audit Committee argues air pollution is a “public health crisis” causing nearly as many deaths as smoking, and the state should be careful not to build new schools, care homes, or hospitals near major roads.

Car traffic is responsible for 46% of nitrogen oxides, 42% of carbon monoxide, and 26% of particulate matter in air pollution.

The government had promoted the use of diesel cars in the UK as the engines produce less carbon dioxide than their petrol equivalent, but diesel has been found to be worse than petrol in causing air pollution in Britain’s cities.

Committee Chair, Joan Walley MP, commented:

“It is unacceptable that another generation of young people growing up in our towns and cities could have their health seriously impaired by illegal air pollution before the Government brings this public health crisis under control. Children growing up near busy roads with high NO2 and particle emissions have stunted and impaired lung development. There is also emerging evidence that air pollution can increase infant mortality rates, prompt pre-term births and affect cognitive performance.”

“Well over a thousand schools around the country are 150 metres away from major roads. Protecting children and vulnerable people in the worst affected areas must be made a priority by Government and Local Authorities. Ministers must pluck up the political courage to take the potentially unpopular decisions necessary to get the most polluting vehicles off the road and encourage more people to walk, cycle or take public transport.”

Exposure to the tiny particulate matter in air pollution can lead to heart and lung disease, as well as cancer, after they lodge in the lungs or are absorbed into the bloodstream.

Nitrogen dioxide in the air is also known to reduce lung function and exacerbate asthma.

In an earlier report published in April, the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) estimated that long term exposure to air pollution had an effect equivalent to 29,000 deaths a year in the UK in 2008.

The government has been accused of ignoring the issue of air pollution, with the EU recently threatening to impose fines on the UK for its failure to meet agreed air pollution limits on Nitrogen dioxide.

In order to tackle the problem, MPs proposed setting up more Low Emission Zones (LEZ), making changes to fuel duty to promote low nitrogen dioxide and low carbon dioxide vehicles, and offering financial incentives for alternative fuels.


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