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High air pollution hits UK

Parts of the UK were hit by “high or very high” levels of air pollution in early April due to local and continental emissions, reigniting the debate over the importance of tackling national air pollution.

Parts of the UK were hit by “high or very high” levels of air pollution in early April due to local and continental emissions, reigniting the debate over the importance of tackling national air pollution.

A health warning released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on 8 April came almost exactly a year after a similar continental pollution incident, fuelled in part by dust blown over Europe from the Sahara, made the news headlines.

Legal action

Pollution levels hit the maximum level of ten on the Government’s air quality index in some parts of the South East on Friday 10 April, and despite the alert being short-lived, recurring incidents over recent years has prompted the European Commission to take legal action against the UK for failing to meet its legal targets in 16 zones across the country, including Greater Manchester and Merseyside. 

Lawyers ClientEarth are also set to bring a case against the Government in the UK Supreme Court on 16 April to seek to enforce a national plan of action to reduce air pollutants.

The impact of air pollution is already estimated to cost the UK around £16 billion each year in adverse health impacts. 

‘Embrace cleaner alternatives’

Commenting on the latest air pollution incident, James Murray, editor of BusinessGreen, said: “Almost 30,000 British citizens are thought to die early as a result of air pollution each year… This is not the fault of high pressure or desert dust, it is the result of our cars and factories and policy makers’ reluctance to embrace the cleaner alternatives that can tackle air pollution.

“We know that zero and low emission vehicles, car-sharing, congestion charging, low emissions zones, air pollution warnings, and most of all clean and effective public transport, works.” 

Diesel pollution

Matthew Farrow, executive director of the Environmental Industries Commission, said: “There are several causes to the current high pollution but that does not mean that action cannot be taken to reduce the severity of such episodes in future.

“A national framework of Low Emission Zones combined with additional funding to retrofit old buses with emissions filters and tougher controls on emissions from construction site machinery would be a good start in reducing the diesel pollution that drives much of our air quality problem.”