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UK air quality targets

New legally binding air quality targets ‘fall well short of ambitious’, safety body warns
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Cyclist commuter wearing a pollution-mask in Central London

British Safety Council has warned that new legally binding air quality targets for the UK, which recently passed the final stages of parliamentary scrutiny, fall well short of what is needed to keep people safe.

In September 2021, the WHO completed a review of the guideline air quality levels it set in 2005, halving its air quality guideline limit for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to 5 micrograms of PM2.5.

‘It is disappointing that, given what we now know about the risks to people’s health from air pollution, this is where we have ended up on the new legally binding air quality targets.

‘The government wanted to be ambitious. And, yes, they will address small particulate matter for the first time. But they fall well short of being ambitious, and they won’t get us anywhere near what the World Health Organisation (WHO) says the limit should be for PM2.5.’

British Safety Council chairman

’Too little too late’

The new UK air quality targets will be a maximum annual mean concentration of 12 µg/m3 by the end of January 2028 (in support of the legal target to achieve 10 micrograms of PM2.5 µg/m3 by 2040).

There is also a target to reduce population exposure by 22% by the end of January 2028, in support of the legal target to reduce population exposure to PM2.5 by 35% in 2040 compared with 2018 levels.

These new limits will finally come into force, under last year’s Environment Act. The government missed its own deadline to introduce them by December.

‘Even if the government carries on doing what it’s doing, we should get to around 10 micrograms by 2030, so why couldn’t it have gone further? And its target of reducing general exposure in the population is also too little too late.

‘As the government publishes some eye-catching proposals for turning the tide on nature depletion in England, let’s not forget that it still needs to do more on the pollution you can’t see which we breathe into our bodies, as well those you can.’

British Safety Council chairman

Air pollution and outdoor workers

British Safety Council has been campaigning since 2019 to raise awareness of the impact that air pollution can have on the health of outdoor workers.

Time to Breathe, one of the drivers of the campaign, has called for more and better data to help us better understand how air pollution affects people such as outdoor workers.

Little or no research exists on the impact air pollution has on people who don’t get to choose the air they breathe because of their work.

These workers include street cleaners, refuse workers, traffic police, cycle couriers, construction or maintenance workers, newspaper sellers, gardeners, teachers or security guards working on busy roads.

Cities introduce Clean Air Zones

Cities around the UK are taking their own action to fight air pollution by introducing Clean Air Zones (CAZs), with Newcastle the latest to bring its own CAZ on Tuesday 30 January.

The most polluting taxis, buses and lorries will now be charged to enter Newcastle.

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