UK Air Pollution is an "Invisible Menace" Say Experts

UK Air Pollution is an "Invisible Menace" Say Experts

Although air pollution levels in the UK have reduced since the 1990s, Professor Monks, chairman of the Air Quality Expert Group, has told the BBC that air pollution is still not taken seriously enough, calling it an "invisible menace".

Professor Monks regards current UK air pollution levels as a "persistent problem" that most people ignore. "If they can't see it they often don't think about it," he said.

Air pollution in Britain is typically caused by a combination of factors as the weather gets warmer, including traffic fumes, Saharan dust and pollution from Europe being brought in from the south. Until the polluted air can be dispersed by cleaner air coming in from the Atlantic or the north, the combination can lead to air pollution warnings with people being advised not to exercise outdoors.

The elderly and those with heart or lung problems such as asthma are most at risk but when pollution levels rise even healthy people are advised to cut down on the amount of exercise they take outdoors. This may be good news for gyms but it is bad news for Britain.

Although the periodic high pollution warnings are often attributed to large increases in levels of Saharan dust exacerbating the problem, most of the persistent pollution in the UK comes from traffic and residential emissions (particularly the very harmful gas nitrogen dioxide). The warnings may make the headlines once in a while but the problem is posing a real and constant threat to our health in the UK, as we are persistently over the safe limit for air pollution as set by the EU (who is taking legal action against the UK government in response to this). The World Health Organistation has published guidelines which campaigners for cleaner air claim the UK, particularly London, is failing to follow.

Philip Insall, Director of Health for cycling charity Sustrans, described the state of air pollution in the UK as "national embarrassment".

He told the BBC: "The next government will need to get a grip on air pollution.

"That will mean serious, dedicated investment and an effective programme of action to help more people out of their cars and choosing walking and cycling for short journeys."

But in the short term, could there be a Catch 22 to achieving this admirable goal? Until pollution levels become a lot safer, then ditching the car to walk, run or cycle, particularly in urban areas or near to busy roads, could be seriously hazardous to our health.

Lawrence Pickup