There was a time when we didn’t think too much about the quality of our air. Times during the industrial revolution, the air was black with soot and thick with smog. Then in 1952, as a response to the Great London Smog, the government passed its first Clean Air Act in a move to improving the standard of the air we breathe.
Since then, much research has been done which shows that the dirtier our air, the worse for us and the environment.
What Makes Air Dirty?
The major cause for dirty air has traditionally been high levels of smoke and sulphur dioxide resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. The introduction of ‘smokeless’ or ‘clean’ coal, smokeless zones and ‘cleaner’ forms of energy such as gas and electricity have gone some way to helping with this problem in recent years as well as another clean air act in 1968 which imposed restrictions on the height and placement of chimneys and implemented the use of only tall chimneys for emitting waste.
Today, however, the new challenge to clean outside air is traffic pollution and we are in need of the further enforcement of clean air standards to help restrict transport emissions.
Although vehicles are being designed and built with the environment more in mind, and their emissions are getting cleaner, the amount of traffic on the road is still climbing steeply and so whilst pollution levels from industry remain relatively stable, those from traffic are significantly increasing.
Nitrogen dioxide and PM10’s (tiny particles, less than ten micrometres in diameter) are the main components of smog, whilst other pollutants such as carbon monoxide, benzene, hydrocarbons, particulates (fine soot and dust particles) and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are also all given off by vehicles every day.
Effects On Health
The negative health effects of air pollution from traffic have long been established as being attributable for conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia. Benzene is also a known carcinogen which can cause Leukaemia, whilst ozone can provoke the airways, causing coughing, irritation to the airways, headaches, and impairment of the immune system.
But what is perhaps even more alarming, is that this type of polluted air is causing more problems than was at first thought with at least 1 in 5 people in the UK being put at significant risk. Indeed, the Department of Health say “air pollution is at present responsible each year for several thousand advanced deaths; for ten to twenty thousand hospital admissions, and for many thousands of instances of illness, reduced activity, distress, and discomfort”
New research now indicates that as many as 19,000 deaths in the UK are directly due to inhaling PM10s, which mainly come from diesel fumes – nearly double the estimate since 2005.
What Are Clean Air Standards?
Because of research which shows the negative impacts of air pollution on our health and the environment, the government regularly set standards for air quality and objectives for making sure that clean air is maintained.
The most recent Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland was published in July 2007 in which a framework was set out for tackling air pollution and meeting clean air standards.
Air Quality Objectives
Standards for air quality are concentrations over a set time period which are deemed to be acceptable in the light of any negative effects they have been shown to cause.
By setting such limits and logging measurable amounts of pollutants in the air, the standards can also then be used to determine if air pollution is improving or deteriorating.
New, lower limits to harmful pollutants (such as PM10s for instance) are then set for future years. These are the objectives which the government is committed to working towards in order to improve the standards of our air.
If you wish to look at the air quality standards the government has set and the objectives it is required to fulfil, you can find them at www.defra.gov.uk