Air Quality

News about aviation and air quality

DfT publishes another 8 week consultation on the Heathrow NPS, showing further weaknesses

As stated in September, the Government has now published a second part of its consultation on the "Airports NPS", on building a 3rd Heathrow runway. The 8 week consultation ends on 19th December. This consultation contains updated air passenger forecasts which were not produced for the earlier NPS consultation (which ended in May). It also looks at air pollution issues, which were not covered properly before, and also noise. This consultation comes exactly one year since the Government announced it favoured a 3rd Heathrow runway.  The DfT is very aware of the problem Heathrow has with air pollution saying the runway means "there remains, however, a risk that the options could delay or worsen compliance with limit values, albeit decreasing over time."  Since the report by the Airports Commission, in July 2015, the arguments it put forward for the 3rd Heathrow runway have been seriously undermined - on economics, air pollution, carbon emission, noise, cost to the taxpayer etc. Yet Government tries to push on with it.  Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park, commented: “It is as if our politicians have been collectively hypnotised, but sooner or later reality will click and the project will be shelved once again.”

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Lancet Commission prompts critical Heathrow air pollution question

With the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health reporting that air pollution is responsible for 8% of all deaths in the UK (50,000 annually, and an increase of 25% on previous estimates), the poor air quality surrounding Heathrow has again been cast into focus. Importantly, it is not just the existence of pollutants, but the proximity of their source to populations that damages health.  Heathrow, which sits within the UK's most densely populated residential region, not only has the highest level of aircraft emissions. It is close to the M3, M4 and M25 (motorways, much of whose traffic services the airport), and regularly fails to meet Air Quality legal limits for NO2.  Meanwhile there is growing evidence that London exceeds WHO recommended limits for Particulate Matter, thought to be responsible for 45% of air pollution related deaths. Studies have identified higher risks of stroke, respiratory and cardiovascular disease (for both hospital admissions and mortality) in areas close to Heathrow. Paul McGuinness, Chair of the No 3rd Runway Coalition said: "This report highlights yet again one of the many reasons why expanding Heathrow can't happen. Its proximity to people. There could be no worse place to concentrate yet more pollution."

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Government set to face fresh legal challenge from ClientEarth for inaction in cutting air pollution

Environmental lawyers, ClientEarth, are set to take the government back to court over what they say are ministers’ repeated failings to deal with the UK’s air pollution crisis. ClientEarth has already won two court battles against the government. It has has written a legal letter demanding that the environment secretary Michael Gove sets out a range of new measures to address UK air pollution. If the government fails to comply with this “letter before action”, ClientEarth will issue new proceedings and ministers are likely to face a third judicial review. The courts forced the government to produce its latest air quality plan in July but the document was widely criticised as inadequate by environmentalists and clean air campaigners. The government’s proposal had “simply passed the buck to local authorities who will have little option but to impose charges on diesel vehicles”. Better action by the government itself is needed, such as changes to the tax system to favour less polluting vehicles; a targeted diesel scrappage scheme and a “clean air fund” to help local authorities tackle pollution.  In 2016 some 278 of the 391 local authorities (71%) missed their air quality targets, up from 258 in 2010 even though measures to reduce pollution are meant to be taken “in the shortest possible time”.  

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Britain’s toxic air – especially PM2.5 particulates – ‘could cause dementia and diabetes’

The Commons health committee has warned toxic air could contribute towards dementia and even diabetes, as well as lung and cardiovascular effects. A new Inquiry  by 4 parliamentary select committees, in to UK air pollution, has been started. Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the health committee, said: “There is an increasing amount of evidence showing the impact of nitrogen dioxide and invisible particulates on human health. Many people are aware of their impact on our lungs and hearts, but new evidence suggests that they could also contribute to diseases as disparate as dementia and diabetes.”  The 4 committees launched a similar Inquiry in March, ending on 12th May. However, the General Election was called, and finally committees were re-constituted in September, with different membership. The Chair of the Transport Committee was Louise Ellman, and is now Lilian Greenwood. She commented that  “Real change is possible if Government leads from the front to co-ordinate an effective response to one of the biggest issues of our time.”  The mechanism by which PM2.5 particles could increase dementia may be through a critical Alzheimer’s risk gene, APOE4, interacts with air particles to accelerate brain ageing but the science is unclear. The mechanisms by which diabetes risk is raised are also unclear.

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4 Commons Committees (Health, Transport, EFRA and Environment) re-launch joint inquiry on UK air pollution

Four Parliamentary Committees have re-launched their joint inquiry into improving UK air quality - for one month. The Committees are Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health, and Transport. They started a similar inquiry in March, which ended on 12th May.  In July 2017, after UK courts twice ruled that the Government’s plans to cut air pollution were inadequate, the Government released a new air quality plan. The new cross-party inquiry will examine whether this new plan goes far enough, and fast enough to both meet legal limits and to deliver the maximum environmental and health benefits. The Chair of the Health committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, said there are concerns that air pollution may not only cause lung and heart problems, but possibly dementia and diabetes too. Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said local authorities do not believe the Government's plans for air pollution are adequate. Air pollution needs to be tackled by m any government departments across Whitehall working together. The joint Inquiry will hold Ministers from key Departments to account, on the effectiveness of plans to reduce air pollution. The huge role of road transport in lowering air quality is recognised. The Inquiry ends on 9th November.

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London’s air pollution from PM2.5 is widespread and bad – electric vehicles don’t solve the problem

New research shows just how bad air pollution by PM2.5 is across London. The latest updated London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, shows that every area in the capital exceeds WHO limits PM2.5, which are particularly bad for health as they penetrate deep into the lungs. The particles have serious health implications – especially for children – with both short- and long-term exposure increasing the likelihood of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Young people exposed to these pollutants are more likely to grow up with reduced lung function and develop asthma. However, the main sources of PM2.5 emissions in London are from tyre and brake wear, construction and wood burning. A recent European commission research paper found about half of all particulate matter comes from tyres and brakes. Cutting the number of diesel vehicles helps reduce NO2 levels, but even converting to electric does not solve the problem of the particles from tyres and brakes. Heathrow hopes getting more vehicles on the road network near the airport might reduce air pollution enough to get its runway - but that will not solve its PM2.5 problem.

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Campaigners say government’s £3 billion clean air strategy for NO2 does not go “far enough or fast enough”

The government's (DEFRA's) £3bn clean air strategy was released on 26th July.  It suggests ways in which roadside NO2 pollution can be reduced. However, air pollution campaigners say it does not go "far enough or fast enough", and is disappointing. Some of the measures proposed include banning the sale of new diesel and petrol cars from 2040 (so there are none on the roads by 2050) and £255m for councils to tackle air pollution locally.  But there is mention of a scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles, or the creation of clean air zones, which environmental groups say are needed. Funding from government of £40 million (raised by a tax on diesel vehicles) will be used to start local schemes rolling, for things like changing road layouts, retrofitting public transport or schemes to encourage people to leave their cars at home.  If those measures do not cut NO2 emissions enough, charging zones for the most polluting vehicles could be the next step.  Greenpeace UK's clean air campaigner said 2040 was "far too late" and called for the UK to "lead the world in clean transport revolution".  ClientEarth - the law firm that took the government to court over pollution levels - said the plans were "underwhelming" and "lacking in urgency". Labour said the government was"shunting the problem on to local authorities" and  "With nearly 40 million people living in areas with illegal levels of air pollution, action is needed now, not in 23 years' time."

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Massive underground warehouse at Heathrow (with park above – under very low planes) to increase air cargo volumes (+ air pollution)

An underground warehousing project near Heathrow has been approved by Hounslow councillors. It is proposed by a company called "Formal Investments."  The 44 hectare site, just to the north-eastern corner of the airport, the Rectory Farm.  It is directly under the northern runway approach path (on westerlies) so would be horrendously noisy with planes not more than 500 feet or so above. Above the subterranean warehouse would be a new park, with sports pitches, using extracted minerals from underneath the currently "disused" land. The site, alongside The Parkway (A312) and Bath Road (A4)could deliver Hounslow’s share of minerals, required by the London Plan. The first areas underground may be available in 2022  if work starts in 2019 - the whole thing could take 15 years to finish. Heathrow wants more warehousing space, as it hopes to increase the amount of air cargo - especially if allowed a 3rd runway. That increase in freight, arriving and departing in lorries, is a huge problem for local air pollution. That pollution (NO2 and particulates) is an almost insuperable barrier to a 3rd runway - especially with ever more freight. Estate agents Savills, said: “Rectory Farm offers a pioneering and innovative solution to the shortage of industrial space inside the M25."

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Heathrow plans to charge motorists £15 to enter ‘congestion cordon’ around airport to tackle toxic air

Heathrow knows it has an insuperable problem with air pollution if it was allowed a 3rd runway. Levels of NO2 are already often illegal, in many places. Now Heathrow is considering imposing a new “H-charge” on motorists who arrive or leave the airport by car. This is intended to reduce air pollution, and get more passengers to travel by rail (already pretty crowded). The idea is for a charge of £10 - 15 for everyone, including taxis and public hire vehicles, for each trip.  Not surprisingly, avid backers of the Heathrow runway like Sir Howard Davies and Lord Adonis think the charge is a great idea. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is understood to believe that some form of low emission zone around the airport will be needed. The government has made (rather hard to believe) assurances that a 3rd runway would only be allowed to operate if it can do so within air quality limits. (Which it cannot). Most of the NO2 and particulate pollution in the area is from road vehicles; a high proportion of those are Heathrow associated; a proportion comes from planes. The exact proportions are not known - yet. Heathrow likes to give the impression hardly any is from planes (not true). Heathrow airport says it will consult on the proposals for charging, and details of how it might work  - but it is seen as a “last resort” to tackle its air pollution problems. It would be very, very unpopular with travellers and taxi/Uber drivers.

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Grayling continues as Transport Secretary – Gove replaces Leadsom at Environment, including dealing with air pollution

Chris Grayling has kept his job as transport secretary after Theresa May carried out a minor post-election reshuffle, but Michael Gove has returned to the Cabinet as environment secretary, at DEFRA. Most cabinet ministers retained their posts, but Andrea Leadsom has been moved from Environment to Leader of the Commons. Mr Gove will have to tackle the issue of air quality, where the Government was forced to publish a draft national plan to tackle NO2 pollution from vehicles before the election and is facing further legal action. ClientEarth, which brought the High Court case requiring ministers to rewrite their national air quality plan, has already returned to the courts to challenge the new draft plan, even though the consultation on the plan runs until Thursday (15 June). Defra has said it is preparing its final plan for publication by 31 July, ‘in line with the timetable directed by the Courts’. Dr Thérèse Coffey will remain as Parliamentary Under-Secretary at DEFRA with the air quality portfolio.

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