News about aviation and air quality
Launch of “Stay Grounded” network – organisations around the world opposing unsustainable aviation/airport expansion
The Stay Grounded network has been officially launched. It now has over 130 signatories, (including the No 3rd Runway Coalition, and others in the UK) and more than 80 member organisations. Stay Grounded aims to reduce the environmentally and socially damaging impact of aviation, by stopping its fast rate of expansion across the world. The industry has privileged status in many ways, including its out-of-control increasing carbon emissions. The Stay Grounded network has published a position paper outlining 13 steps for a transition towards a transport system that is more socially just and ecologically sustainable. Many non-violent actions took place in countries around the world, in a recent week of action. These were directed against airport infrastructure projects, many of them leading not only to rising CO2 emissions, but also noise and health issues, loss of homes, biodiversity and fertile lands. Around the world there are about 1200 airports planned to be built or being expanded. Stay grounded will also highlight the industry’s inadequate “greenwashing” strategies, which will lead to increasing pressure on ecosystems, local farming communities, and indigenous peoples, particularly in the Global South.
Air pollution by NOx linked to much greater risk of dementia
Research published in the BMJ indicates there is an increase in the chance of developing dementia. About 131,000 patients in London aged between 50 and 79 were followed for 7 years, with air pollution exposure estimated by post code. People over 50 in areas with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air showed a 40% greater risk of developing dementia than those with the least NOx pollution, according to data from London. The observational study cannot establish that air pollution was a direct cause of the dementia cases, but the link between higher pollution and higher levels of dementia diagnosis could not be explained by other factors known to raise risks of the disease. Air pollution has already been linked with cardiovascular and respiratory disease, but this is one of the first studies to examine links with neurodegenerative illness. It is possible that perhaps 60,000 of the total 850,000 dementia cases in the UK may be made worse by air pollution. This adds to the body of research on the wide-ranging effects of air pollution, including evidence that particles of pollutants can cross the placenta - an evidence from China of a “huge” reduction in intelligence associated with breathing dirty air, equivalent to losing a year’s education.
Air pollution particles found in mothers’ placentas
Scientists have found the first evidence that particles of air pollution travel through pregnant women’s lungs and lodge in their placentas. Toxic air is already strongly linked to harm in foetuses but how the damage is done is unknown. The new study, involving mothers living in London, UK, revealed sooty particles in the placentas of each of their babies and researchers say it is quite possible the particles entered the foetuses too. A series of previous studies have shown that air pollution significantly increases the risk of premature birth and of low birth weight, leading to lifelong damage to health. A large study of more than 500,000 births in London, published in December, confirmed the link and led doctors to say that the implications for many millions of women in polluted cities around the world are “something approaching a public health catastrophe”. Scientists are increasingly finding that air pollution results in health problems far beyond the lungs. In August, research revealed that air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence, while in 2016 toxic nanoparticles from air pollution were discovered in human brains.
Data shows the NOx produced by Heathrow planes is over double that produced by road vehicles
There is a widely held belief that Heathrow's NO2 air pollution is largely due to road vehicles, and as long as measures can be taken to reduce these a bit, then a 3rd runway could be allowed. However, research indicates that the aircraft are producing even more NOx than the road vehicles, and there is far less that can be done to cut these emissions. Indeed, if there were to be almost 50% more Heathrow flights, the amount of NOx generated by the aircraft alone would mean a massive increase locally. That is not taking into account all the extra road traffic that would inevitably be generated by a larger Heathrow, including businesses etc that locate near the airport and all their traffic. The 2013 figures from a study for Heathrow, by Ricardo-AEA Ltd show the amount of NOx emitted from planes up to 1000 metres altitude was 2761 tonnes NOx/ year, and 1524 tonnes from aircraft on the ground (ie a total of 4285 tonnes/ year). Also 274 tonnes/year from other airport sources. Then 350 tonnes/year from Heathrow associated trips on main roads in a 11km x 11km area, and 1661 tonnes/ year from non-Heathrow associated traffic in that 11x11km area. (ie. a total of 2011 for all road traffic). So the amount from planes is way over twice the amount from road vehicles. And that ignores the NOx from planes in the wider area, over 1000 metres altitude.
Councils notify Secretary of State that they will seek Judicial Review of Government’s decision to approve Heathrow 3rd runway NPS
A group of local authorities has formally notified the Secretary of State for Transport that it intends to seek judicial review of the Government’s decision to give policy support in the Airports National Policy Statement ('NPS') for a 3rd Heathrow runway. The councils are challenging the Government on the grounds of air quality, climate change, and strategic environmental assessment (SEA) including failing properly to deal with the noise consequences and surface access impacts. On air quality they say, amongst other things, that the Government has misunderstood and misapplied the law on air quality. On surface access the councils say, amongst other things, that the NPS fails to recognise the scale of the challenge to accommodate additional trips without unacceptable effects on the transport network and unacceptable effects from traffic pollution. The Government must now respond to the councils’ formal letter before action. If the Transport Secretary does not agree to quash the NPS, the local authorities will bring judicial review proceedings.The Boroughs taking the legal action are Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Richmond, Windsor & Maidenhead Council, and Hammersmith & Fulham.The group has also been joined by the Mayor of London and Greenpeace.
Government accused by Councils of ignoring Transport Select Committee recommendations in final Heathrow NPS
Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Windsor &Maidenhead, and Richmond Councils have accused the government of misleading MPs on the Heathrow runway plans (the Airports NPS). They say the government has only incorporated 3 out of 25 of the recommendations by the Transport Select Committee (TSC) recommendations into the final NPS, while trying to give the impression it has taken far more account of them. Chris Grayling told the Commons (5th June) that 24 of the 25 recommendations had been "acted upon" and that expansion at Heathrow had been agreed by the Cabinet. The 4 councils are calling on Mr Grayling to return to Parliament and explain to MPs why the TSC advice has been brushed aside. The Councils need to see a definition of an acceptable maximum number of people newly exposed to plane noise, by a 3rd runway. Among their demands, they want assurance that planning approval would only be granted if the target for no more airport-related traffic can be met. Also a more stringent interpretation of air quality compliance including 'headroom' to manage future increases in pollution - and clarity on how the requirement for 15% of new slots will be secured for domestic connections, rather than just warm, woolly wording.
European Commission takes action to protect citizens from air pollution – referring UK to the European Court of Justice
The European Commission is stepping up its enforcement against 7 Member States who have breached agreed EU rules on air pollution limits. It has now referred France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and the UK to the Court of Justice of the EU for failing to respect agreed air quality limit values and for failing to take appropriate measures to keep exceedance periods as short as possible. The Commission is also issuing additional letters of formal notice to Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom on the grounds that they have disregarded EU vehicle type approval rules. On NO2 pollution the UK, in 16 air quality zones, among them London, Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow air pollution limits were exceeded (with annual concentrations reported in 2016 as high as 102 µg/m3 in London). In total, there are 13 NO2 level infringement cases pending against Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, and the UK. Today's decision on Germany, France and the UK are the first ones to be referred to the Court. Suggestions to improve air quality are air quality standards, national emission reduction targets, and emission standards for key sources of pollution such as vehicles and industry.
Drivers for miles around Heathrow could face £15 congestion charge, to TRY and keep to legal air pollution limits
Holidaymakers who drive to Heathrow could soon be hit with a congestion charge, as the airport needs to try to persuade tourists - those going on holiday or visiting friends and family - to leave their cars at home, in order not to make local air pollution any worse. Critics have said the proposed move is unfair because as much as 80 miles of roads, in the Heathrow vicinity, could be impacted. This would inevitably have a very negative impact on road users who are not associated with the airport, going about their usual activities. The level of the proposed charge is unknown - it would have to be quite high in order to sufficiently deter travellers, (up to £15 perhaps?) for whom air travel demand is "inelastic" ie. not much affected by price. Reacting to this proposal, Robert Barnstone, Coordinator of the No 3rd Runway Coalition, said: "This latest additional Heathrow charge simply highlights a critical problem with expanding Heathrow: air pollution targets would be so difficult to meet that the airport will have to whack travellers and families with a £15 charge for accessing the airport by car." Without drastic measures to restrict road traffic in the areas, significantly worsened air pollution is likely - where limits are already regularly beached.
AEF comment on the DfT’s Aviation Strategy – environmental impacts must be central to policy, not an add-on
The AEF (Aviation Environment Federation) has commented on the Government's Aviation Strategy, produced on 7th. They say that while the UK aspires "to be a world leader in aviation when it comes to facilities and services, the same cannot be said for environmental protection, at least when it comes to climate change. A world-class package of environmental protection doesn’t currently seem to be on the agenda." They say "The Aviation Strategy objectives should include an environmental objective that is not wrapped up in a commitment to growth, and the implications of this objective should be considered from the start." AEF reiterate that aviation's "unlimited growth is incompatible with achieving environmental commitments" and the DfT is not even questioning whether aviation growth was a positive outcome to aim for. Instead of the 3 separate consultations on aspects of UK aviation policy over the next 18 months, (with environment at the end) there will be a single Green Paper this autumn. The AEF hopes this allows for environmental impacts to be considered throughout the period of policy development and not as an afterthought (as it originally appeared). The DfT policy is focused on airline passengers and improving the service to them, but it should instead be in the interest of the whole population, including those affected by airports and aircraft.
Reality Check: Why politicians should reject the 3rd Heathrow runway. By Sally Cairns and Carey Newson
For a masterful summary (2 pages with all references) of the reasons why the UK government should not be persuaded into allowing a 3rd Heathrow runway, see this briefing by Sally Cairns and Carey Newson, from Transport for Quality of Life. They sum up all the ways in which the business case for the runway is flawed and the environmental case rests on hugely optimistic assumptions. They list these as: "planes will get cleaner and quieter at a faster rate than has previously been expected; cars and vans will also get dramatically cleaner; freight movements will somehow be optimised; the latest National Air Quality Plan will deliver all anticipated air quality improvements; the fledgling international aviation carbon offsetting scheme will generate a high enough carbon price; the national Aviation Strategy (not yet written) will come up with cost-effective mechanisms for constraining aviation emissions further; the new Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise will prove effective; a review of airspace (that has not taken place for over 40 years, as it is so controversial) will take place soon; HS2, Crossrail and the Piccadilly line upgrades will attract air passengers and airport staff in sufficiently large numbers; funding will be found for Western and Southern rail access; etc. It seems very unlikely that all of these will fall into place."