New research shows no safe limit for PM2.5 which would hugely increase with expansion of airports, like Stansted
Date added: December 17, 2019
New research published in the British Medical Journal on 30 November has shown that airborne emissions of fine carbon particles – known as PM2.5 – can have serious health impacts even when the level of concentration is below the World Health Organisation’s guideline limits for air pollution. PM2.5 emanates especially from fuel combustion and transport sources and is one of the major issues associated with airport expansion, not only because of the additional air pollution caused by the increased number of flights but also from the additional road traffic generated by the increase in passenger numbers travelling to and from the airport. There are links between PM2.5 and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as Parkinson’s and diabetes, and there are now others. The expansion of Stansted Airport is expected to hugely increase air pollution. Its own figures indicate the expansion to 43 mppa would lead to perhaps an extra 25% – 13.6 tonnes – of PM2.5 into the air that local residents, have to breathe. That is wholly unacceptable, knowing the severe health impacts upon the local population.
NEW RESEARCH SHOWS NO SAFE LIMIT FOR AIR POLLUTION
16.12.2019 (Stop Stansted Expansion)
New research published in the British Medical Journal on 30 November has shown that airborne emissions of fine carbon particles – known as PM2.5 – can have serious health impacts even when the level of concentration is below the World Health Organisation’s guideline limits for air pollution. [Note 1]
PM2.5 emanates especially from fuel combustion and transport sources and is one of the major issues associated with airport expansion, not only because of the additional air pollution caused by the increased number of flights but also from the additional road traffic generated by the increase in passenger numbers travelling to and from the airport.
The results of the research confirm previously established associations between PM2.5 and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as Parkinson’s and diabetes. [Note 2] In addition, the study found evidence of health impacts not previously associated with PM2.5 including septicaemia, fluid and electrolyte disorders, skin infections and infections of the urinary tract.
Stansted Airport is already a major source of PM2.5 air pollution and, in connection with its current planning application to increase its permitted throughput from 35 to 43 million passengers per annum (mppa), the airport was required to provide a report on the projected PM2.5 pollution levels. In summary this report showed as follows: [Note 3]
Emissions of PM2.5 (tonnes)
Projected for 2028
If limited to current cap of 35mppa
If expansion to 43mppa approved
Other airport sources
Airport related road traffic
SSE health adviser, Professor Jangu Banatvala, commented: “Stansted Airport’s own figures show that if its current planning application were to be approved, the airport would be responsible for putting an annual total of 13.6 tonnes of PM2.5 into the air that we all, as local residents, have to breathe. That’s 25% more than today, which is wholly unacceptable when this new research removes all doubt as to the connection between airborne pollution from fine carbon particles and severe health impacts upon the local population.”
Professor Jangu Banatvala concluded: “The paramount duty of Uttlesford District Council is to do all that it can to safeguard the health of its local residents. In view of this new research it is inconceivable that our local council could permit any further airport expansion until such time as this can be achieved without increasing the risks to the health of the local population.”
Note 1: ‘The cost of air pollution to Health’, Wei Y, Wang Y, Di Q et al – BMJ, 30 November 2019. Professor Banatvala adds: “Exposure to noise and air pollution are among environmental factors inducing a broader spectrum of disease than has hitherto been recognised. Recent research is now unravelling the molecular mechanisms by which tissue damage is induced by such environmental factors”. The WHO guideline limits for PM2.5 are a concentration level of no more than 10 micrograms per cubic metre (annual mean) and 25 micrograms per cubic metre (24-hour mean).
Note 2: A 2016 report from the Royal College of Physicians [‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’] highlighted the links between air pollution and cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. The report estimated that around 40,000 deaths a year in the UK are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, describing it as one of the major health challenges of our day.
The UK’s failure to meet World Health Organisation standards limiting the amount of ultra-fine particles in the air represents a major danger to health that is only now being recognised, experts claim.
Studies published this year link the particles to cancers, lung and heart disease, adverse effects on foetal development, and poor lung and brain development in children. They are considered a key threat to health because they go deep into the lungs and then reach other organs, including the brain. But European standards allow the levels of particles in the air to be 2.5 times higher than those stipulated by the WHO.
Professor Annette Peters, director of the Institute of Epidemiology at the Helmholtz Zentrum, Munich, said Europe – and the UK – urgently needs to introduce tougher standards. She said: “Particles are a major and invisible danger to our health, especially in London and our big cities.
The US has a standard of 12 micrograms of ultra-fine particles per cubic metre, while the WHO standard is 10 micrograms.
“We [the UK and EU’s limits] are currently at 25 micrograms per cubic metre – double the US standards,” said Peters, who warned that scientific evidence confirming the threat they pose to human health “has really strengthened this year”.
“We initially had evidence of the effect on the lungs and heart, but now we also have evidence that it alters the metabolism as well as impacting the brain.”
“Colleagues of mine have been able to show that ultra-fine particles are able to reactivate the herpes virus which lies dormant among carriers.” She said urgent studies were needed to look at the impact of fine particles on cognitive development, especially in children. Studies have documented that adverse health effects are observed even at concentrations well below the recommended WHO levels.
According to a paper, written by Peters and published in the Lancet, ambient air pollution now ranks among the top 10 major risk factors for attributable death worldwide and leads to an average loss of life expectancy of approximately one year in Europe.
Peters said ultra-fine particles could carry several thousand kilometres. “In most times you don’t see or smell it, the pollution, so it’s clear, if you look to India or the far east, the pollution is very visible. Here, we have blue skies but that doesn’t mean we have truly clean air.”
Studies in London confirm wide geographical variations in the amount of fine particles in the air. While Oxford Street suffers major concentrations, nearby Hyde Park is considered far cleaner.
Professor Jon Bennett, consultant respiratory physician and chair of the British Thoracic Society’s Board, described the particles as “a real and present health danger to society”.
“It is really concerning that babies and children are particularly susceptible as air pollution can impair immune-system development in the womb and adversely affect children’s cognitive development,” he said.
A WHO report estimated that in 2016 air pollution contributed to more than half a million deaths from respiratory tract infections in children under five years of age.
“Everyone should have the right to breathe clean air,” Bennett said. “We must have a harder-hitting and better-funded national strategy that really tackles this issue across the board – including fast-tracking the delivery of more clean air zones in our most polluted cities and areas.”