News about aviation and air quality
UK government will not commit to immediate lowering of air pollution levels to WHO limits
The government has refused to commit to an immediate lowering of legal levels of air pollution. The death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, from asthma cause by air pollution, sparked calls for the immediate lowering of legal air pollution levels to bring them in line with those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO says particulate pollution from fine particulate matter PM2.5 should not exceed an annual mean of 10 μg/m3. For PM10 the limit is 20 µg/m3 annual mean. But the UK currently has higher limits for fine particulate matter: 40 µg/m3 annual mean for PM10 and 25 µg/m3 for PM2.5. The coroner investigating Ella's death, called for legally binding levels of particulate pollution to be lowered to meet the WHO limits. He said: “The evidence at the inquest was that there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be seen as minimum requirements." There will be a public consultation on air pollution levels in January 2022, with a view to setting new air pollution targets in October 2022. There are various nice sounding, empty, statements from government about air pollution. Airports are a major source of both NO2 and particulate air pollution, from both planes and surface vehicles - with Heathrow producing the most. It is now known the pollution spreads downwind far from an airport.
Letter to DfT: The Airports National Policy Statement should now be withdrawn, as it is out of date
The Supreme Court ruled, on December 16th, that the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) was legal. The ANPS is the policy document necessary to Heathrow to proceed with plans for a 3rd runway. But the Court ruling does NOT give the runway consent. The government did not challenge the earlier ruling, in February, by the Appeal Court. The ANPS was written around 2017-18 and approved in Parliament in June 2018. Since then, life has moved on, and it is very out of date. The economics of the situation have changed; awareness of the climate implications of a runway is hugely greater; the Committee on Climate Change has given its advice on the Sixth Carbon Budget, and that aviation growth has to be constrained; knowledge has increased about the health impacts of air pollution from aircraft; and now Covid has reduced demand for air travel, which may never recover to its 2019 level. Neil Spurrier, from the Teddington Action Group (TAG) has written to the DfT to ask that the ANPS is now withdrawn. He says the ANPS "is now completely out of date and should be withdrawn. I request that this is done pursuant to a review under section 6 of the Planning Act 2008 ..." See Neil's full letter.
Effects on cardiovascular and respiratory systems of short-term exposures to ultrafine particles in air, near an airport, in healthy subjects
There is a growing body of research into the negative health impacts of very tiny particulate air pollution. The nanoparticles of ≤20 nm are produced by vehicle engines, but seem to be produced in considerable amounts by jet engine. A new study in the Netherlands looked at impacts on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems of 21 healthy young (18 - 35), non-smoking volunteers. They were exposed between 2 and 5 times to 5 hour periods of the ambient air near Schiphol airport, while doing intermittent moderate exercise like cycling. Various aspects of their circulation and respiration were measured. The study found the exposures were associated with decreased FVC (forced vital capacity - a measure of lung function) and prolonged QTc intervals (the time it takes the heart to re-polarise for the next beat).The effects were relatively small, but they appeared after single exposures of 5 h in young healthy adults. "As this study cannot make any inferences about long-term health impacts, appropriate studies investigating potential health effects of long-term exposure to airport-related UFP, are urgently needed."
Air pollution is likely to increase the chance of developing Type 2 diabetes
Research in 2015 showed that there is a link between air pollution and the development of Type 2 diabetes. [That is the diabetes people generally acquire later in life, that is treated with medication, rather than insulin injection]. The study looked at 102 published studies from various countries. The results stated: "Air pollution is a leading cause of insulin resistance and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus. The association between air pollution and diabetes is stronger for traffic associated pollutants, gaseous, nitrogen dioxide, tobacco smoke and particulate matter." And the conclusions: "Exposure to air pollutants is significantly associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. It is suggested that, environmental protection officials must take high priority steps to minimize the air pollution, hence to decrease the incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus." There is probably more research needed, to establish details, but it appears that there is definite positive link between the two. So areas with high levels of particulate and NOX air pollution, such as around Heathrow, are likely to see more ill health, including more diabetes.
Prof Whitelegg: How the aviation sector should be reformed following the Covid-19 crisis
Prof John Whitelegg says the Covid pandemic provides a key opportunity for major reforms to the aviation sector. The sector is not likely to reduce its carbon emissions to the extent necessary, even for the net zero target for 2050. The Committee on Climate Change has said there will need to be measures to limit demand for air travel, and it "cannot continue to grow unfettered over the long-term.” They say "we still expect the sector to emit more than any other in 2050.” Aviation continues to receive an effective subsidy, due to the absence of VAT and fuel duty that amounts to about £11 billion per year (compared to about £3.8 billion taken in APD). There are well known negative health impacts caused the plane noise, with some of the best researched being cardiovascular. We need to change the dominant expectation that air travel with continue to grow. There has to be realisation that air passengers must pay the costs of the environmental damage they cause. Some necessary changes would be charging VAT; taxing frequent fliers; adopting WHO noise standards for health; full internalisation of external costs; fiscal instruments to shift all passenger journeys under 500kms in length from air to rail. And more.
Heathrow air pollution down dramatically during Covid lockdown
With very low numbers of planes using Heathrow (97% down) over the past 3 months, due to the Covid lockdown, this has been an excellent opportunity to get data on air pollution - comparing days with, and without, the planes. Using data from Air Quality England, local group Stop Heathrow Expansion have found that five air quality monitors around Heathrow which breached the maximum legal limit in March – May 2019 have shown an average 41% improvement in the same period in 2020. Our current air quality laws state that nitrogen dioxide concentrations must not average more than 40 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3), per year. This level is often exceeded at a range of locations around Heathrow. Readings from a site on the Northern Perimeter Road showed a 50% improvement in air quality. Another site outside Cherry Lane Primary School had a 46% reduction in NO2 emissions, from 44.1µg/m3 in March – May 2019 to a safer 23.9 µg/m3 in the same period in 2020. As well as fewer planes, there were fewer road vehicles. Air pollution figures from inside the airport boundary were substantially lower, showing the source is planes, not only road vehicles, as Heathrow likes to claim.
New calls by CAGNE on Grant Shapps and MPs to curb Gatwick expansion plans
Campaign group, CAGNE, against the expansion of Gatwick, are appealing to newly-elected MPs to help curb the airport’s growth plans. They are also urging local residents, along with the MPs, to protest to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps. CAGNE says Gatwick’s expansion proposals will lead to an extra 55,000 flights per year by 2033 - and that there is insufficient infrastructure to cope with the growth. It will also lead to large increases in noise levels and CO2 emissions, which are environmentally unsustainable. Air quality will also deteriorate. CAGNE is calling on transport secretary Grant Shapps to subject Gatwick's expansion proposals to more scrutiny by declaring the proposals a ‘National Significant Infrastructure Project’ (NSIP), which requires it to be subject to a different process than a smaller expansion, of under 10 million more annual passengers. A project that qualifies as an NSIP has to go through the Development Consent Order process. CAGNE said in their letter to Shapps that Gatwick's growth plans "are neither compatible with the current climate emergency, nor with achieving the Government‘s net zero carbon target."
New King’s College study on Heathrow ultrafine particle air pollution shows it spreads far into London
In a new study, researchers from King’s College London have measured ultrafine particles (UFP) in European cities and detected emissions from airports. Many studies have examined and quantified the levels of larger particles (e.g.PM2.5 - <2.5μm or PM10 - <10μm), but very few have studied UFP (< 0.1 μm). The researchers identified, characterised and quantified the sources UFPs in Barcelona, Helsinki, London, and Zurich between 2007 and 2017. They measured particle and gaseous pollutants at different sites and used a statistical model to identify and quantify the contribution of the different sources of ultrafine particles. They found that London had the highest concentration of UFP compared to other cities. The greatest concentrations of the smallest particles (called nucleation particles) when the wind was blowing from the airport in all cities. This indicates that airports are a major UFP source and that these small particles can travel many kilometres. Traffic emissions contributed the most. So it is confirmed that Heathrow pollution - with very negative health impacts - spreads far into London, many miles away.
New research shows no safe limit for PM2.5 which would hugely increase with expansion of airports, like Stansted
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.
Communities around Sea-Tac Airport exposed to a unique mix of air pollution associated with aircraft
Seattle-Tacoma Airport, USA had about 438,000 flights in 2018. Communities under flight paths and downwind of the airport are exposed to air pollution from the aircraft. Now research from the University of Washington shows that this includes a type of ultra-fine particle pollution, less than 0.1 micron in diameter, distinctly associated with aircraft. A 2-year study "MOV-UP") looked at air pollution within 10 miles of the airport, and collected air samples at numerous locations between 2018 and 2019. The researchers developed a new method to distinguish between ultra-fine particle pollution from jet traffic and pollution from other sources such as road vehicles, in the particle size and mixture of particles emitted. They found that communities under the flight paths near the airport are exposed to higher proportions of smaller-sized, ‘ultra-ultrafine’ pollution particles, between 0.01 to 0.02 microns in diameter, and over a larger area compared to pollution particles associated with roads. The tiny particles get deep into the lungs, and can penetrate tissues around the body, potentially causing illness, including cancers. Knowing the different signature of ultra-fine particles from aviation will enable local authorities to detect the pollution from aircraft themselves.