air pollution

Air Pollution – How do we Fight it?

This Monday, Age UK London hosted an Environment Conference as part of our “The Way Ahead” project, which is funded by the City Bridge Trust. The event was an opportunity to learn all about the Mayor’s Draft Environment Strategy and to allow older Londoners to contribute their views and opinions to help shape the final document. We were joined by Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy Shirley Rodrigues, who outlined her department’s plans and took questions and advice from those in attendance. We also heard from Dr Ian Mudway, of the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London, who explained the impact of traffic pollution on our health. Dr Mudway’s presentation was then followed by Allergy UK CEO Carla Jones, who discussed the ways in which air pollution can affect our allergies and how we can protect ourselves.

The conference focused particularly on air pollution, which turned out to be an incredibly prescient topic, as Mayor of London Sadiq Khan triggered an emergency air quality alert just two days later. This is the seventh time in the last thirteen months that such a warning has been provided. In this case, the response was triggered after polluted air from the continent combined with toxic air in London to create dangerous levels of pollution. A mix of mist, low cloud, fog and slow wind speed in London led to a large build up of toxic particles.

Air Pollution London
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This is particularly concerning from our point of view, as older people are considered one of the most vulnerable groups for this type of pollution – especially those with heart or respiratory conditions. As it currently stands, the quality of London’s air is illegally poor, it is the most pressing threat to the future health of London. It is therefore unsurprising that the Draft Environment Strategy states that the Mayor wants to “dramatically reduce the number of Londoners whose lives are blighted by poor air quality.” 

The aim is for London to have the best air quality of any major world city by 2050, pushing beyond legal requirements to protect Londoners’ health. Both short and long term measures are planned to take place, with some measures operating right across London and other confined to specific boroughs. Efforts will be made to tackle air pollution at the source, including reduction of car use and switching to cleaner fuels, to ensure that London’s entire transport system is zero emission by 2050. 

The Mayor’s main proposals for combating air pollution are as follows:

  • Clean up London’s transport system and phase out fossil fuels including diesel, making the whole bus fleet zero emission by 2037 at the latest and introducing the Ultra Low Emission Zone by 2019 to deter the most polluting vehicles from entering London
  • Consider introducing a new Air Quality Positive standard so new building developments contribute to cleaning London’s air
  • Use the planning system to help ensure that new schools and other buildings that will be used by people who are particularly vulnerable to pollutants are not located in areas of poor air quality
  • Fund the implementation of air quality plans that will help at least 50 schools in some of London’s most polluted areas reduce their pupils’ exposure to poor air
  • Provide more information to Londoners on when air pollution is bad, with guidance on monitors, and give people with fire places or wood burning stoves better information on which to use so they don’t make air pollution worse
  • Set even tighter long-term air quality standards based on the best health evidence to make sure Londoners can breathe the cleanest air and start addressing the problem of indoor air quality
  • Seek powers so London can enforce controls on air pollution from construction machinery, the river and other sources.

So, do you agree with the Mayor’s proposals? Are there areas where you think further action should be taken? You have until November 17 to have your say!

George Harvey

George is Age UK London's Communications and Campaigns Officer.

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