CIEH demand more action on improving air quality as government confirm shocking statistic

10 May 2023, Ciaran Donaghy

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has urged the UK Government to do more to improve air quality as government Ministers confirm up to 43,000 deaths per year are attributable to PM2.5.

The worrying statistic was confirmed by Maria Caulfield MP, a Minister within the Department for Health and Social Care, in response to a written parliamentary question from Geraint Davies MP. 

Particulate matter, or PM2.5, are very small particles in air that are 2.5 micrometres (about 1 ten-thousandth of an inch) or less in diameter. This is less than the thickness of a human hair. Particulate matter is a mixture that can include organic chemicals, dust, soot, and metals that can come from transport, industrial activity, domestic wood burning, and agricultural activity. 

The presence of pollutants in the air, not just PM2.5, but also NO2, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), sulphur dioxide and ammonia, can have severe adverse effects on public health, with Public Health England (now the UK Health Security Agency) in 2021 citing air pollution as the largest environmental risk to public health.  As a result, air pollution has a considerable knock-on effect on our health service. For example, Public Health England estimated that between 2017 and 2025, the total cost of air pollutants for which there is evidence for an association with adverse health effects, was £1.69 billion for PM2.5 and NO2 combined (£1.54 billion for PM2.5 and £60.81 million for NO2)

A recent survey of CIEH members working in environmental protection, found that an overwhelming majority (73%) felt that air quality should be the number one priority for CIEH. Therefore, CIEH have called on the UK Government to take more urgent action on improving Air Quality, urging them to make this a policy priority. This comes in the wake of Defra recently publishing their Air Quality Strategy, which looks at how local authorities can use existing powers to tackle local air pollution. 

Despite having only 10 working days to respond to this consultation, CIEH in collaboration with the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) and the Association of Directors for Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), produced a joint-response which you can find here

CIEH used this opportunity to promote the fact that local authority Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) have an essential role with respect to monitoring local air pollution and enforcing air pollution regulations. CIEH also highlighted the fact that without greater guidance from central government, and without greater capacity in the way of funding and resourcing, local authorities are faced with the unenviable job of trying to tackle local air pollution in often piecemeal and disjointed ways. 

CIEH are urging the government to show greater ambition and leadership, and to treat air pollution like the urgent political issue it is.  

Louise Hosking, Executive Director of Environmental Health at the CIEH, said: 

“Air pollution is an urgent public health crisis that is not only costing our NHS billions every year but has a direct impact on the nation’s health costing thousands of lives.

Following confirmation from the government that over 40,000 lives are lost annually as a direct result of exposure to pollutants such as PM2.5 and NO2, we at CIEH are urgently calling upon them to make tackling air pollution an urgent policy priority. 

CIEH have been urging the government to recognise the critical role EHPs play within local authorities and beyond in tackling local air pollution. We remain committed to engaging directly with the government to communicate how local authority environmental health teams can support the government in tackling this complex issue.”   

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