Government responds to MPs report on air quality

25 November 2010

The Government has responded this week to the previous Environmental Audit Committee’s report on air quality (published in March this year), which highlighted how air pollution could be contributing to 50,000 deaths in the UK every year.

The Government response puts a figure on the harm pollution from vehicles and power stations is having on the average life-expectancy of people living in the UK – a reduction of 6 months.

Joan Walley MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee said:

“It’s a national scandal that the average life expectancy of people living in the UK is reduced by 6 months because of road traffic pollution.”

“This shocking statistic should be used to inform policy decisions on transport across local and central Government.”

Particulate matter (PM10) from road vehicles causes the most damage to health. The Government expects to meet the UK and EU limits for PM10 “by 2011”, but it does not say how these targets will be met.

There have been recent reports suggesting that this might be achieved in London by using dust suppressant sprays on the roads. Such temporary fixes should not be at the expense of increasing action to cut pollution in the first place.  

Joan Walley MP added:

“Using dust suppressant sprays to damp down pollution on London’s roads will help people in our capital city breathe easier – but it’s only a temporary fix.”

“We need to tackle the root cause of the air pollution problem and clean up our transport system.”

The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee is disappointed that rather than developing a ‘national framework for low emissions zones’, as the report recommended, local authorities will be left to decide their priority for zones.

At the time of the Committee’s report, the Department for Transport was researching the technologies required for successful low emissions zones in other EU countries.


Air pollution has an impact on average life expectancy across the UK, because it makes asthma worse and exacerbates heart disease and respiratory illness.

Despite the considerable impacts on public health very little effort is being put into reducing air pollution levels, compared with efforts to tackle smoking, alcohol misuse and obesity.

The Committee Chair is also concerned that despite the now well-recognised risks to health, there will be no national campaign on air quality.

A dramatic shift in transport policy is required if air quality is to be improved. This means removing the most polluting vehicles from the road, cleaning up the vehicles that remain and encouraging smarter choices about transport.

Many of the policies needed to reduce transport emissions have the added benefits of tackling climate change by reducing CO2 emissions. 

Further Information

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