Air Quality

News about aviation and air quality

DfT publishes Aviation Strategy, with focus on growth and helping passengers – little on environmental impacts

The government has published its Aviation Strategy, which the DfT says "will set out the longterm direction for aviation policy to 2050 and beyond." The first phase of its development was the publication of a call for evidence in July 2017. The Aviation Strategy says it will now "pursue 6 objectives, which are unchanged following the consultation." It is very much focused on the passenger, the passenger experience, helping the aviation industry, expanding aviation and "building a global and connected Britain."  The Strategy "sets out further detail on the challenges associated with these objectives and some of the action that the government is considering and which will form part of further consultation later in the year." The DfT says:  "The government will continue the dialogue that has already begun on these issues. The next step will be the publication of detailed policy proposals in a green paper in the autumn of 2018. This will be followed by the final Aviation Strategy document in early 2019." There is mention of the environmental problems (carbon, noise, air pollution) but they are given scant attention, and it is presumed they can all be reduced - even while the sector has huge growth. A new runway at Heathrow is assumed to happen.

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Mayor of London Transport Strategy opposes Heathrow runway, unless there are firm assurances on air pollution, noise and surface access

The Mayor of London has published the Transport Strategy for London, which sets out the Mayor’s policies and proposals to reshape transport in London over the next two decades. The Strategy is firmly opposed to a 3rd Heathrow runway.  Its section on Heathrow states:  "The demand generated by the current airport combined with local traffic already place considerable strain on the roads and railways serving the airport and contribute to levels of NO2 that are well in exceedance of legal limits. The Mayor considers that, as a result of the additional flights and associated traffic, any expansion at Heathrow would significantly impair London’s ability to meet international air quality obligations in the shortest possible timescale and would contribute to an overall worsening of air quality relative to the situation without expansion. Heathrow already exposes more people to significant aircraft noise than its five main European rivals combined, and the proposed increase in flights cannot avoid many people being newly exposed to significant noise. Moreover, it would be unacceptable if the air quality gains secured by the Mayor and the potential noise improvements as a result of new technologies were not allowed to accrue to local communities to improve public health, but were instead used to enable expansion of Heathrow airport."

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“If the government wishes to get serious on clean air, by adopting stronger measures … a 3rd Heathrow runway simply can’t proceed”

The Cross-Parliamentary EFRA Committee report on Improving Air Quality, released on 15th March, calls on the Government to bring forward legislative proposals on clean air that unify and update existing laws in a new Clean Air Act. This includes whether to adopt WHO air quality guidelines for all pollutants. The report also states that the latest air quality plan will not “deliver improvements at a pace and scale proportionate to the size of the challenge." The High Court agrees. Significant improvements to the plan, and to the Government’s wider approach to air quality, are needed to protect the public from toxic air and that the Government’s forthcoming action plan “must ensure air quality policies are properly aligned with public health and climate change goals.” Reacting, Paul McGuinness, Chair of the No 3rd Runway Coalition said:  “If the government wishes to get serious on clean air, by adopting stronger measures ... a 3rd runway at Heathrow simply can't proceed. As it is, Heathrow already regularly exceeds Nox and particulates targets. And even the government's best-case scenario for an expanded Heathrow expects there to be a "high risk" that air quality targets will be breached. If the government wishes to signal a purer intent on air quality, abandonment of this project would at least represent a meaningful start.”

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Grayling emissions omission admission: Heathrow air quality costs 2-4 times higher than previously thought

The Commons Transport Committee is currently assessing the Heathrow proposals for a 3rd runway. One of the issues in which they have taken a particular interest is whether the right numbers have been used for the cost to human health of air pollution, and if the costs of pollution beyond a 2km band around the airport have been properly considered. Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary, has now written to the Committee to clarify the government position, and has confirmed that the DfT omitted (in error) to consider the emissions beyond 2km. By contrast the DfT's own impact appraisal had noted impacts well beyond this 2km boundary, in terms of additional vehicle traffic.  The total figure for the extra cost to health, from Grayling's admission, is now thought to be 2 to 4 times higher than the one published in the official appraisal document.  That means the "net present value" of the scheme, previously assessed as minus £-2.2 to plus £3.3 billion over 60 years (so already potentially negative) could drop to as low as minus £-2.6 to plus £2.9 billion under the new estimate.  The cost of the damage to human health from additional air pollution, associated with a new runway, is one of the two ways the DfT assesses the cost-benefit analysis of the proposal. 

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Study from Los Angeles shows huge extent of spread of particle air pollution downwind of airport

A study in California looking at air pollution from Los Angeles International Airport has shown far more widespread impacts that had previously been expected. The scientists measured the spatial pattern of particle number (PN) concentrations downwind from the airport with an instrumented vehicle that enabled a larger area to be covered than allowed by traditional stationary measurements. The study found at least a 2-fold increase in PN concentrations over un-impacted baseline PN concentrations during most hours of the day in an area of about 60 km2 that extended to 16 km (10 miles) downwind and a 4- to 5-fold increase to 8–10 km (5–6 miles) downwind. Locations of maximum PN concentrations were aligned to eastern, downwind jet trajectories during prevailing westerly winds. They found the levels of PM miles from the airport were higher than those from motorways. They say "The freeway length that would cause an impact equivalent to that measured in this study (i.e., PN concentration increases weighted by the area impacted) was estimated to be 280–790 km) "The total freeway length in Los Angeles is 1500 km. These results suggest that airport emissions are a major source of PN in Los Angeles that are of the same general magnitude as the entire urban freeway network. They also indicate that the air quality impact areas of major airports may have been seriously underestimated."

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UK Chief Medical Officer says people’s health is being damaged by exposure to too much air, noise and light pollution

The Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has said people in the UK are being exposed to a daily cocktail of pollution - from noise pollution, air pollution and light pollution) that may be having a significant impact on their health, and on the NHS.Dame Sally said major industries should take more responsibility for the pollution they cause, and that there was enough evidence to suggest action had to be taken. Her report "Health Impacts of All Pollution - what do we know?" says: "Major infrastructure projects are making construction noise a semi-permanent feature of the urban sound environment" ... "Noise acts as a psychosocial stressor, and the psychological reaction to it is influenced strongly by a number of personal, situational and environmental factors." The section by Professor Stephen Stansfield says:  "In 2012, 83% of a survey sample in the UK reported they heard road traffic noise, 72% aircraft noise and 48% noise from building, construction and road works at home in the last 12 months.  48% reported that their home life was “spoiled to some extent” by environmental noise." ..."Short term effects of noise on sleep include impaired mood, increased daytime sleepiness, and impaired cognitive performance."

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UK Government loses 3rd air pollution case brought by ClientEarth, as judge rules air pollution plans ‘unlawful’

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have won a 3rd case against the UK government over the country’s illegal and harmful levels of air pollution. In a ruling handed down at the High Court in London, Judge Mr Justice Garnham declared the government’s failure to require action from 45 local authorities with illegal levels of air pollution in their area is unlawful.  He ordered ministers to require local authorities to investigate and identify measures to tackle illegal levels of pollution in 33 towns and cities as soon as possible – as 12 of the 45 are projected to have legal levels by the end of 2018. He said: "The Environment Secretary must ensure that, in each of the 45 areas, steps are taken to achieve compliance as soon as possible, by the quickest route possible and by a means that makes that outcome likely."  This will be of great embarrassment to ministers, as it is the third time that they have lost an air pollution court battle. ClientEarth commented:  “The problem was supposed to be cleaned up over 8 years ago, and yet successive governments have failed to do enough ... government must now do all it can to make that happen quickly.”  The area around Heathrow has high NO2 pollution levels, often over the legal limit,  and it is unlikely that there could be a 3rd runway without a serious risk of air quality deteriorating.

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Briefing from the No 3rd Runway Coalition on the Heathrow consultations

eathrow has a current consultation, on its runway plans, which closes on 28th March. People are advised, if they send in a response, to make sure their submission is not taken as tacit agreement with the 3rd runway. The No 3rd Runway Coalition has put together a 2 page briefing, advising people about the many areas in which the consultation is inadequate, and suggesting a list of issues that remain unaddressed by Heathrow. Just some of the issues where the consultation fails are: - No clarity on plans for road and rail access and no commitment to pay for them. - No assessment of cost of moving the M25 nor a traffic impact assessment whilst construction takes place. - No assessment of the impact of construction of local air quality. - No assessment of impact on assets of national importance (parks and open spaces) from potentially being overflown for 12-hour periods with no respite from noise.  On questions people should ask, just some are:  - Why does the current Heathrow consultation on expansion include proposals for a shorter runway that have not been considered by the Airports Commission nor included in the Airports NPS?  - What assessment has been made of the financial cost of the proposals to move the M25 or put it into a tunnel? - What assessment has been made of the impact on local roads of a potential 50% increase in the level of freight handled by Heathrow?  And there are many more. See the full briefing here

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Grayling makes key admissions on serious problems with a 3rd Heathrow runway, at Transport Committee hearing

Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, made several assertions when he appeared before the inquiry on the Airports National Policy Statement, held by the Transport Select Committee on 7th February.  When questioned about Heathrow's regional connectivity, he confirmed that many of the domestic routes, promised by Heathrow, would not be commercially viable and would require taxpayer funded Public Service Obligation (PSO) subsidy orders, if they were to ever materialise.  Grayling also confirmed that, although up to 121,000 residents around the airport would be expected to suffer the impact of the further air pollution concentrations, likely to flow from the extra flights required to meet the DfT's own recently updated passenger demand forecasts, the government was yet to undertake any work to assess those impacts. Mr Grayling also confirmed that there would be a 'real risk' of non-compliance on air quality, were Heathrow to expand, and that the Government's own analysis expects that risk to be heightened in the years 2026 – 2030.  He also confirmed that the 3rd runway would mean a reduction in respite from noise, for adversely impacted residents. Details with extracts from transcripts at the link below.  Paul McGuinness, Chair of the No 3rd Runway coalition commented on the NPS that "To proceed on the basis of evidence that unravels, on scrutiny, would simply be unacceptable".

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Study by Kings College and Imperial College finds PM2.5 air pollution may harm babies before birth, raising risk of low birth weight

Air pollution by PM2.5 particulates may be harmful to babies even before they are born. This is the finding of a new study (published in the BMJ)  by researchers at Imperial College and Kings College, London, among others. The PM2.5 particles are so tiny they can easily enter the smallest airways in the lungs, and get into the bloodstream. The researchers, using subjects from London, calculated mothers’ exposure to air pollution and traffic noise in various parts of the city from 2006 to 2010. Then they amassed data on birth weights of 540,365 babies born during those years to women who lived in those areas. The average PM2.5 pollution exposure was 14 micrograms per cubic meter. The researchers found that for each 5 microgram per cubic meter increase in PM 2.5, the risk of low birth weight increased by 15%. Low birth weight is a predictor of an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and hypertension in later life. It is considered that there is no safe lower level for PM2.5 pollution, though the EPS in the USA uses a standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over 3 years, and the WHO 10 micrograms as a limit. The lead author of the study said in London: "The current limits are not protecting pregnant women, and they’re not protecting unborn babies.”

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