Air Quality

News about aviation and air quality

Heathrow’s 3rd runway is equivalent to bolting an extra airport onto one that is already the world’s most disruptive

The Heathrow consultation sets out Heathrow’s assessment of the impacts of expansion on local communities and the environment, and their plans (such as they are ...) to mitigate these impacts. Speaking for the No 3rd Runway Coalition, Paul Beckford commented that: “Our communities will be destroyed by these expansion proposals, with 783 homes demolished and another 3,000 homes rendered unliveable owing to the construction and pollution. 2 million more people will be exposed to aircraft noise at levels that have a detrimental impact on health and millions will be exposed to significant increases in air pollution from vehicles accessing the airport as well as the 700 additional planes in the skies every single day. Every community across London and the Home Counties will experience the impacts of these proposals..." Paul McGuinness, Chair of the Coalition said: "Statistically, Heathrow is already the world’s most disruptive airport. It lies at the heart of the UK’s most densely populated region and has a hopeless environmental record, regularly breaching air quality targets. And all of that comes with just two runways. Heathrow’s plan equates to bolting another major airport on top of its current, disruptive operation."

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Val Shawcross, once a fierce critic of Heathrow expansion, now chair of “Heathrow Area Transport Forum” (paid by Heathrow)

Val Shawcross worked as deputy mayor of London for transport, and was vehemently against the expansion of Heathrow, last week took up a job as chair of the "Heathrow Area Transport Forum".  The Forum is an (allegedly) "independent" statutory body whose chair’s salary is paid by Heathrow airport. It does not have powers to penalise Heathrow if it misses its targets.  Part of Ms Shawcross’s role will be to develop Heathrow’s transport access strategy, and monitoring the airport’s performance against the strategy’s targets.  If they miss targets, then in theory the DfT (a huge supporter of Heathrow expansion) and the regulator, the CAA, are meant to "hold it to account."   She knows well that “If Heathrow expanded without tackling issues like air quality, public transport growth, active transport . . . it would be a disaster for London.”  In January 2018, Ms Shawcross told parliament’s Transport Select Committee that the NPS, “completely fails to show how you could expand Heathrow without worsening air quality, not just locally but with an impact across central London as well”. She says now she will  “walk my talk” by challenging the airport  from a statutory role. Time will tell ...

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Heathrow plans a ULEZ from 2022 for passenger cars, taxis etc coming to car parks or drop-off areas

Heathrow knows it has to try to do something to cut its high levels of air pollution. So it has proposed some changes, to slightly reduce pollution from road vehicles (nothing about the pollution from the planes). The plan is to introduce charges for passenger cars and all private hire vehicles, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It would be the world’s first airport ULEZ. That might start in 2022, and then turn into a VAC (Vehicle Access Charge) on all passenger cars, taxis and private hire vehicles coming to car parks or drop-off areas,  if the runway finally gets built.  Heathrow says: "We want to reduce congestion by decreasing the number of cars on the road and encourage more people to use sustainable ways of getting to and from the airport..."  And "The Heathrow ULEZ will introduce minimum vehicle emissions standards identical to the London Mayor’s ULEZ..." Initial proposals set the charge figure between £10-£15 per vehicle. "Revenue collected from both schemes will help fund initiatives to improve sustainable transport, contribute to community compensation and help keep airport charges affordable as the airport expands." (sic)  [ie. keep flights cheap, so there can be more flights, which will lead to more air pollution]. 

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Kings College research: Teenage psychotic experiences more common in areas with high air pollution

A new study (in JAMA Psychiatry) by researchers at Kings College London has found it is likely that teenagers living on polluted roads are about 40% more likely to be psychotic. There seems to be a connection between the air pollution and why adolescents in cities are twice as likely to suffer psychosis as those in rural areas.  It is not proof that the pollution causes psychosis, but it adds to mounting evidence that NOx and particulates can do far-reaching damage to the brain and lungs. They may contribute to the development of dementia and depression, as well as possibly harming the unborn foetus, by entering the placenta.  The recent study used data on 2,232 teenagers in England and Wales who were asked about psychotic experiences, such as whether they heard voices or felt they were being watched. About a third had such experiences. While most will grow out of them, these teenagers are at higher risk of going on to suffer full-blown psychosis. The answers were compared with detailed modelling of pollution levels at the teenagers’ homes. The link remained significant even after adjusted for class, drug use, family history of mental illness etc. Heathrow is a huge source of air pollution, from its planes and associated road traffic. 

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Evidence on air pollution, given to the High Court hearings on a 3rd Heathrow runway, by Neil Spurrier

Neil Spurrier, a solicitor from Teddington, made one of the 5 legal challenges against the Secretary of State for Transport's decision to approve a 3rd Heathrow runway, through the Airports National Policy Statement. The legal hearings from the councils, the Mayor of London, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Plan B Earth and Mr Spurrier took place between the 15th and 19th March. There are transcripts of each day's proceedings here. Neil addressed the issue of air pollution in particular, and the emissions of NO2 and particulates from planes themselves. He made important points, such as that air pollution is known to spread much, much further from an airport than the 2 km that the DfT has tried to use. Also that there is evidence of possible damage to the foetus from particulates found in placentas of people affected by air pollution, and that the government should not be risking the health of future generations. He made the point, on ultrafine particles, that merely because they have not been specifically studied (being part of the wider category of PM 2.5), is no reason for the government to discount them or consider their impact to be negative. The absence of evidence is not enough to avoid the precautionary principle. Read the full transcripts for details.

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Severe impact of 3rd Heathrow runway on residents laid out in High Court hearing

The Government's approval of a third runway is being challenged at the High Court by a coalition of councils, residents, environmental charities and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.  Representing five London boroughs, Greenpeace and Mr Khan, Nigel Pleming QC said the plans could see the number of passengers using Heathrow rise to around 132 million, a 60% increase.  Mr Pleming said: "The new development, if it goes ahead, will add, in effect, a new airport with the capacity of Gatwick to the north of Heathrow" and that the adverse effects and consequences for local residents of such an expansion are "bound to be severe". The legal challenges (other than the one by Heathrow Hub) say the Government's National Policy Statement (NPS) setting out its support for the project fails to properly deal with the impact on air quality, climate change, noise and congestion.  The claimants argue the NPS is unlawful and should be quashed, which would mean the Government would have to start the process again and put it to another vote in Parliament. Scores of demonstrators gathered outside the court ahead of the hearing, addressed by MPs, Council leaders and campaigners. All are determined that this runways is NOT going to go ahead. The hearings will last for 2 weeks.

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Fungal blooms on the River Crane may be caused by pollution from Heathrow outfall

Local voluntary group, the Friends of the River Crane Environment (FORCE - or Citizen Crane) keep an eye on the river Crane, which flows past Heathrow. They monitor the water quality, oxygen levels and invertebrate numbers. It appears there is a current problem with  blooms of pale grey brown sewage fungus on the river bed found immediately downstream of the Heathrow outfall.  In the past there have been numerous incidents of water pollution caused by the use of glycol to de-ice planes. This then gets in to water balancing reservoir, and hence into the River Crane. Algal blooms are formed, due to the pollution, reducing the water's oxygen and thus harming, or killing, creatures in the river. Heathrow is thought to have recently installed a £17 million water treatment system, and it had been hoped this would end the pollution incidents caused by glycol. However, it does not yet appear to be working as expected. FORCE will continue to monitor the situation closely and will also request a statement from Heathrow.

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ICAO’s environment committee comes up with some standards for new aircraft, years ahead

The meeting of the ICAO "Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) in Montreal has ended. The committee's purpose is to try to reduce and limit the environmental damage done by the aviation industry (noise, air pollution, carbon emissions).  It has not been very successful to date. This meeting has agreed on an Aircraft Engine Standard: "A new stringency level that would limit the emissions of non-volatile Particulate Matter (nvPM) from aircraft engines was agreed. The ICAO standard is expected to drive technologies to address non-volatile particulate matter, which in the long run will minimise their potential environmental and health impacts." ie. for planes yet to be built, with any impacts decades ahead. At least admitting the problem of PM particles produced by planes.  On noise ICAO said: "The meeting also delivered ...improvements of aircraft noise up to 15.5 dB below Chapter 14 limits for single-aisle aircraft by 2027, NOx emission by 54 per cent relative to the latest ICAO NOx SARPs and fuel efficiency up to 1.3% per annum can be expected for the new aircraft entering into production." Again, for new planes, with no real impact for decades. On CORSIA they said CAEP had agreement (not spelled out) on how to assess life-cycle CO2 emissions reductions for biofuels or other lower carbon fuels.  ie. not a lot.

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TAG: Heathrow air pollution does NOT stop 2km from the airport, or just 1,000ft altitude. DfT is wrong

Teddington Action Group (TAG) have been doing research into how likely it is that air pollution will get worse, if Heathrow is allowed a 3rd runway. Their investigations indicate that government has not assessed this properly, and has ignored relevant available information from other airports. TAG say that according to Heathrow, emissions from planes do not contribute notably to emissions once the plane is above 1,000ft. The Airports Commission and DfT and its advisors set a study area of just 2 kilometres from the expanded airport boundary. There is much evidence to indicate that is wrong. Planes emit significant amounts of NO2 and particulates, which find their way down to the ground (and by definition into humans and living creatures as well as vegetation). The DfT deny this but the empirical evidence does not support the DfT. Studies between 2014 and 2016 at Los Angeles, Atlanta and Schiphol, Amsterdam, strongly suggest otherwise. Mobile monitors set up under the inward flight paths show that particulates and NO2 are transmitted by the wind up to some 20 kilometres down wind. See full article for details.

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Alistair Osborne of the Times: Heathrow expansion shows Gove’s air pollution strategy is hot air

In a blog by Alistair Osborne, of the Times, he says on air pollution: "No government minister ever got anywhere without being able to think two contradictory ideas at once. So why should Michael Gove be different? The environment secretary’s just published his Clean Air Strategy, complete with the rallying cry: “We must take strong, urgent action.” And what sort of action has the government he represents got in mind? That’s right: building a £14 billion 3rd runway at Heathrow. Yes, the same one that transport secretary Chris Grayling admits may well cause more pollution. Or, as last year’s Airports National Policy Statement put it: “Increases in emissions of pollutants during the construction or operational phases of the scheme could result in the worsening of local air quality.” Bizarrely, the H-word doesn’t get a mention in Mr Gove’s 109-page document. But maybe he didn’t want to draw attention to one awkward fact: that air quality around the airport is already in breach of EU limits for nitrogen dioxide emissions.  Read the whole article  .....

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