Medical leaders urge Boris Johnson to reduce legal levels of UK air pollution below World Health Organization limits in response to the death of schoolgirl Ella Kissi-Debrah from the toxic air.
Members of the UK Climate Change Health Alliance are calling for the reduction in PM2.5 limits to be included in the environment bill, which is coming back to parliament this week.
A letter to the Prime Minister from leaders of the British Medical Association, more than 20 nursing colleges, the Lancet and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) read: “Today before the environment does come back to the House of Lords, we urge your government to use this bill to legally commit to reducing fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution in the UK below the maximum level recommended by the WHO by 2030.
“Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental determinants of health and contributes to many serious and chronic health problems affecting every organ in the body. Despite this, the UK’s legal limits for PM2.5 pollution – some of the most damaging pollutants of all – are currently more than double the limit recommended by the WHO. “
Last week, in response to the coroner’s recommendations in the inquest of nine-year-old Ella, to lower the limit to WHO levels, the government did not commit to such cuts. Instead, the Johnson government has pledged to hold a public consultation next January, with a view to setting new air pollution targets in October 2022.
He did not commit to setting the legal limit below the WHO level for PM2.5 of an annual average of 10 μg / m3, but said he would use WHO guidelines to inform his ambitions.
In a landmark ruling, Coroner Philip Barlow found air pollution to be a cause of Ella’s death in 2013. Barlow said during her lifetime Ella was exposed to air pollution. nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) exceeding WHO guidelines, the main source of which were traffic emissions.
Failure to reduce pollution levels to legal limits may have contributed to her death, as may failure to brief her mother with information about the potential for air pollution to exacerbate the disease. asthma, he found.
In their letter to Johnson, medical leaders point out that the Royal College of Physicians estimates that around 40,000 deaths per year can be attributed to air pollution. Figures from the NHS and Public Health England for five years before the Covid-19 pandemic showed that 5% of all deaths were attributable to PM2.5.
“Thousands more are living with health problems caused or exacerbated by dirty air. Such lung conditions make people more vulnerable to viruses such as Covid-19, so protecting the lung health of the public is a key part of the fight against the virus, ”the letter said.
He then challenges Johnson to show leadership in the year the UK hosts Cop26, the 26th United Nations climate change conference, in Glasgow.
“Sources of fine particle pollution – road transport, domestic and industrial fires – also account for a significant proportion of UK greenhouse gas emissions. We can therefore simultaneously meet the challenges of climate change and air pollution… We must do so if we are to meet your government’s commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 ”, the letter states. .
“As your government aims to rebuild better, the economic, health and environmental arguments for strong legal protection against fine particle air pollution are clear. This should be in line with the standards set by the WHO. “
The environmental bill returns to Parliament this week when the House of Lords considers the bill at committee stage. Medical leaders have urged members of the Lords to support a Maggie Jones amendment to introduce WHO-compliant targets for PM2.5 pollution.
The signatories of the letter are Dr Richard Smith, Chairman of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change; Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Professor Jon Bennett, Chairman of the Board of the British Thoracic Society; Dr Andrew Goddard, President of the Royal College of Physicians; Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists; Prof. Maggie Rae, President of the Faculty of Public Health; and Dr Camilla Kingdon, President of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health.