Construction industry responsible for 18% of UK’s large particle pollution

Workers in building trade are frustrated by lack of action, says new report
03 November 2022 , By Kerry Taylor-Smith

Construction industry is second only to road transport for large particle pollution in the UK

The construction industry is responsible for 18% of large particle pollution in the UK according to a new report from Impact on Urban Health (IoUH) and the Centre for Low Emission Construction (CLEC), a figure which rises to 30% in London.

The report discovered that 97% of people working in the construction industry believed air quality was either an ‘extremely or very important’ environmental health concern. However, it also revealed frustration with a lack of ambition, action and policies to address the problem.

“This report reminds us that construction contributes significantly to air pollution, the single greatest environmental threat to health, which disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people in our communities,” says Ben Pearce, Portfolio Manager in IoUH’s programme on the health effects of air pollution.“People in the construction industry are concerned about air pollution, health, and the environment. The industry wants change.”

Construction is a major source of air pollution, second only to road transport. Of particular concern is large particulate matter or PM10, where particles measure less than 10µm in diameter. Its contribution has increased in recent decades with cities like London most affected.

“There has been considerable progress made in reducing emissions in London, particularly from transport and on-road vehicles, however, the construction sector still lags behind and contributes significantly to the pollution that affects the health of workers and residents living close to areas of major development,” says Daniel Marsh, Programme Manager at CLEC and Imperial College London.

The report makes several recommendations for local and national policymakers for future work including tightening regulations and policies, and adopting clean technologies and better working practices. In London, guidelines have been introduced for large construction sites to reduce PM10 emissions from construction and demolition. Minimum standards have also been set for non-road mobile machineries (NRMM) such as diesel-powered diggers, and generators.

“It’s time for government and local authorities to work with the construction industry to take practical steps to improve air quality.”

“This important research highlights the need for all stakeholders to come together and recognise the impacts of construction activity on health, and the environment, and recommends several innovative programmes that will help address the local air quality issues whilst delivering NetZero benefits across the wider industry,” says Marsh.

Pearce added, “It’s time for government and local authorities to work with the construction industry to take practical steps to improve air quality.”

Focus should also be on retrofitting or repurposing existing buildings to lower emissions from demolition and construction, says the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC). “From homes to offices, retail units to hospitality venues, our buildings have a significant amount of locked-in carbon, which is wasted each time they get knocked down to be rebuilt, a process which produces yet more emissions,” explains Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, EAC Chairman.

But Dunne says more needs to be done: emissions must be decreased if the UK is to meet its NetZero targets. The EAC suggests the government should incorporate whole-life carbon assessments for buildings, including emissions from construction, maintenance and demolition, and energy used in day-to-day operations, into regulations and planning systems.

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