Consultations have begun on setting new air pollution targets in the UK, as part of the Government’s response to the death of a nine year old girl from what a coroner called ‘excessive air pollution’.
Local councils will be given extra funding to improve air quality, as the authorities continue to react to Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death in 2013.
She died from asthma caused by toxic air, and in the subsequent inquest the coroner for South London ruled that air pollution, had been a ‘material contribution’.
The Government’s response to the coroner’s Prevention of Future Deaths Report sets out that a number of key measures. They include immediate action to increase public awareness about air pollution. This will include a comprehensive review of existing sources of information – including UK Air and the Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI) – to include more specific messaging for different population groups. This will help health professionals in advising patients when poor air quality is forecast. The Government will also look at working with relevant health charities on longer-term campaigns aimed specifically at vulnerable groups.
In addition, around £6 million will be added to the annual funding pot for local authorities as part of the Air Quality Grant scheme. Part of this fund will be dedicated to improving public awareness in local communities about the risks of air pollution. It will also encourage collaboration with local public health bodies to, for example, provide guidance to vulnerable groups about the health impacts from air pollution and the steps they can take to minimise their exposure. This funding sits alongside the £880 million that has already been pledged for local authorities to develop and implement local air quality plans, including Clean Air Zones.
Encourage collaboration with local public health bodies
Several media organisations already provide air quality information online alongside their weather forecasts to warn people when air pollution levels are likely to be elevated. There are also a number of alert systems – including in Manchester and London – that people can sign up to. The Government will have further discussions with broadcasters, social media companies and app providers to identify ways to spread this information more widely with clear advice that people can act on. It will also consider the scope and effectiveness of establishing a new national SMS alert system.
NHS England and Improvement (NHSEI) will continue work on a more systematic approach to asthma management. This will include identifying environmental triggers and promoting more personalised care for individual patients. In addition, the NHSEI Children and Young People’s (CYP) Transformation Programme will set out evidence-based interventions to help children, young people, families and carers, to control and reduce the risk of asthma attacks.
On particulate matter limits, a public consultation on new legal targets for PM2.5 and other pollutants will launch early next year, with the aim of setting new targets in legislation by October 2022. The Government has used the World Health Organisation guidelines on PM2.5 to inform its ambitions in shaping these targets. Further to this, the new Office for Health Promotion will consider as a priority how public health benefits can be achieved through reductions in population exposure to PM2.5, taking into account the particular circumstances experienced in London and the South East.
As well as a simple concentration target on PM2.5, the Government is developing a more sophisticated population exposure reduction target. This aims to drive reductions not just in pollution “hotspots”, but in all areas. In setting these new targets, there will also be a commitment to significantly increase the monitoring network to capture more detailed air quality information across the country.
‘A commitment to increase the air quality monitoring network’
The Government also stands ready to work with the medical and nursing Royal Colleges and other groups to support any work they may be considering to engage their members, including changes to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.
George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said: “Ella’s death was a tragedy and I would like to pay tribute to her family and friends who have campaigned so tirelessly on this issue, and continue to do so.
“Today’s response is part of a much wider cross-Government effort to drive forward tangible and long-lasting changes to improve the air we breathe, as well as doing more to inform the public about the risks.
“Air pollution levels have reduced significantly since 2010, with emissions of fine particulate matter falling by 11 per cent while emissions of nitrogen oxides are at their lowest level since records began. We know that there is more to do which is why we are setting new legally-binding targets on particulate matter pollution and building on our Clean Air Strategy to accelerate action to clean up our air.”