A failure to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits has led the European Commissions to send a final warning to five countries, including the UK.
The breaches particularly concern the high levels of nitrogen dioxide. In the UK, 16 air quality zones have persistently broken NO2 limits including London, Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow. If ministers fail to take action within two months, the matter could be taken to the European Court of Justice.
Why is nitrogen dioxide bad?
The main effect that NO2 has on human health concerns breathing. Exposure to high levels of NO2 can increase the likelihood of respiratory problems in the general public. The irritant gas inflames the lining of the lungs and can reduce immunity to lung infections.
With around 50 per cent of nitrogen oxide emissions coming from road traffic, and 80 per cent of this coming from diesel vehicles, it’s a serious problem. As a way of measuring the damage that NO2 causes the general public, around 50,000 Brits die every year through illnesses associated with pollutants like NO2. To compare this, 1,732 deaths were reported by road traffic accidents in 2015.
What’s gone wrong?
Britain has been exceeding the EU’s NO2 limits since 2010. In particular, London breached its annual air pollution limit for the whole of 2017 during the first five days of January.
Since the warning, a government spokesperson has said that the government was committed to improving national air quality and had committed more than £2bn to increasing the uptake of ultra-low emitting vehicles since 2011.
For London, the government has announced an Ultra Low Emission Zone that will come into action from September 2020. All vehicle types in central London will need to meet exhaust emission standards or pay a daily charge to travel. This is a promising development, but efforts need to be made to improve the levels on a national scale.
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