Dame Sally Davies says issue is not just environmental and calls on UK government to bring in tougher standards to tackle toxic air
Fri 2 Mar 2018
England’s chief medical officer is calling on the government to do more to reduce air pollution by introducing stringent new national standards to reduce the threat to human health.
Dame Sally Davies says pollution must be seen as a public health issue and not just an environmental concern. She recommends the government bring in tougher standards to cut air pollution and standardise any road charging introduced to cut nitrogen dioxide pollution from diesel traffic.
In her annual report, Davies said leaving decisions on reducing toxic air to local authorities risked creating confusion for drivers and inconsistent implementation.
She said: “Instead of being seen as a health issue, pollution is often seen primarily as an environmental problem. This needs to change. As a society we need to regain a focus on pollution as a threat to human health.”
The government’s air quality plan has been condemned as so poor as to be unlawful by the high court. Last month ministers were slammed again by a high court judge for failing to produce adequate plans to reduce toxic air.
Air pollution is thought to cause and contribute to as many as 40,000 deaths a year in the UK already, especially among vulnerable people such as those with existing respiratory problems, and young children, whose health can be permanently damaged by exposure to the pollutants at a young age.
Davies said pollution should be recognised for what it is – a significant cause of non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer and asthma.
“Addressing pollution is therefore disease prevention,” she said.
Deprived groups in England, and those with underlying medical conditions, particularly the young and the old, suffered the most from exposure to air pollution, often leaving them with lifelong poor health outcomes.
She welcomed work in London to improve air quality around schools exposed to the highest levels of toxic air in the city.