I wasn’t about for the great smog of 1952, but naturally I’ve heard a lot about this fabled pea-souper. There’s a suggestion we’ve moved on from air pollution, that we’ve somehow solved it. Not so. We might not have smog, but we still have chronic pollution. Road transport remains the largest single source of nitrogen-dioxide pollution.
Fresh stats are emerging for 2013 and they’re not pretty. In Scotland 17 sites have failed to meet 2010 targets set in the Climate Change Act for air pollution (12 failed in 2012). In Northern Ireland 502 avoidable deaths were attributable to pollution – 10 times the number of road deaths. And there are similar pollution pockets all over the country.
Incredibly there’s no obligation for local authorities to tackle the fine particulates air pollution that can be taken deep into the body and are thought to do the greatest amount of damage. (In Scotland, fine particulate matter is only monitored in six sites.)
According to campaigners (Friends of the Earth remain the most vociferous group on this), EU levels on particulate air pollution are set too high. This conclusion was backed by a large-scale study published recently in the British Medical Journal. But the EU’s not planning substantive changes until 2030.
So it’s up to us not to bang a drum but rather a bucket. Bucket brigades (gcmonitor.org) are a US invention. Community groups learn how to measure local pollution, collecting air samples in a bucket and then using their findings as evidence to fight for clean air. They have been used in the UK, but I want to see more of them, especially now that citizen science is all the rage. Check Defra information online to find out if your air falls below standards, at uk-air.defra.gov.uk.
Some neighbourhoods have quietly been designated pollution hotspots and forced to implement an action plan. Is your neighbourhood one of these? If so, unlikely inspiration comes from the M1: more specifically Junction 28 at Matlock, Derbyshire, to Junction 35a north of Rotherham. This passes through a critical pollution pocket where unacceptable levels have been monitored. Consequently proposals are afoot to bring in a “green” speed limit, reducing it to 60mph. This is one of the first incidences I can think of where the right to breathe has been put ahead of the right to drive.