Media highlights: 7 – 11 September 2015

By Steven Fifer, PR Manager for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) 

Newspaper stack 

Public health stories tend to dominate this environmental health media highlights blog but this week we’re going to kick off with environmental protection.

Air quality has been on the agenda lately with a story at the beginning of the week which said pollution from trains at London's Paddington Station has worse air quality than nearby major roads. This was followed by a story at the end of the week which claimed that almost 200 local authorities in England and Wales breached the national annual mean limit for nitrogen dioxide in 2013, according to DEFRA.

The air we breathe is much cleaner thanks to legislation and the work of environmental health practitioners in addressing and reducing air pollution. Nonetheless, air pollution has not gone away and not least due to our growing transport fleets, public, private and commercial. Exposure to high levels of air pollutants can be a health risk and this is an interest to the CIEH, as well as taking into account that it is EHPs who are required to carry out regular reviews and assessments of air quality in their area against standards and objectives prescribed in regulations for the purpose of local air quality management (LAQM). If air quality is found to breach these regulations, EHPs must take action and help to regulate certain types of industrial processes that cause air pollution.

Continuing on the theme of environmental protection, the policy officer responsible for this area in the CIEH, caught a story which focused on a report from the Music Venue Trust, which claimed that music venues are closing at a rapid rate due to noise complaints.

Noise is something that we cannot escape and while we must accept a certain degree of noise in our daily lives, there are some types of noise that are unwelcome and, in extreme cases, may have a damaging effect on our health. Noise is therefore a significant interest for the CIEH as it’s the job of the environmental health practitioner to ensure the degree of noise in the environment around us remains at a level that is not harmful to our health.

Food continues to make an appearance in both print and online publications. The Independent ran a story which said food banks are struggling to store and distribute fresh produce, forcing suppliers to only hand out dried, tinned or powdered produce. This has resulted in a fear that the growing reliance on food banks in the UK is storing up a future health nightmare.

This is interesting for the CIEH, both on the nutritional food angle but also regarding public health of vulnerable people who are relying on food banks to eat and survive.

Further food-related news stories saw the last restaurant in Britain to bear celebrity chef Gareth Rhodes’ name receive a zero rating by food inspectors and a restaurant owner in Easingwold, North Yorkshire, is due to appear in court after he was accused of the manslaughter of a customer who suffered a fatal allergic reaction to peanuts.

Wednesday saw the Minister for Housing, Brandon Lewis, announce at a conference in Wales that the government will continue to facilitate investment in private rented housing while using powers to tackle the small number of landlords that provide a poor service and give the industry a bad name. The Mayor of London also made a call for further powers for local authorities to tackle rogue landlords, such as the ability to impose minimum fines for bad property-owners.

These stories coincide with the fact that the CIEH recently submitted a response to the DCLG on how best to deal with the important issues in the private rented sector and how best to tackle rogue landlords.   

There’s not a week that goes by where vaping or smoking doesn’t make the headlines and the last five days were no different. Reuters had two articles this week on the subject, with the first story looking at a report which said teenagers and young adults who use e-cigarettes are more likely to move on to traditional cigarettes than those who do not use the electronic devices. This was followed by the news that smokers who switch to e-cigarettes – even if it’s only some of the time – may dramatically reduce their exposure to air pollutants including carbon monoxide and acrolein.

Unfortunately, this blog is finishing on a sour note as there have been a series of health and safety stories which do not necessarily have the best endings. Wednesday saw a story reporting that Sports Direct has come under attack from the Unite Union, as well as its own shareholders, for the poor treatment of its staff. Sadly there were also two death-related stories: executives from a building firm have pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter over a worker's death caused by a wall collapsing on him in St Albans in 2013; and a company in north London has been fined £325,000 following the death of a 16-year-old labourer due to a lack of safety equipment on site.


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