Ministers admit missing air pollution targets as health chiefs warn of deaths

Air pollution accounts for 1,199 deaths each year in the North East, says Public Health England

Traffic jam
Traffic jam

Air pollution will continue contributing to hundreds of deaths each year in the North East after Ministers admitted they were set to miss targets for improving the quality of the air we breathe - by a decade.

The Department for the Environment has revealed it now expects air pollution in the region to exceed official limits set by the European Union until 2025.

Previously, it had predicted that the target would be met by 2020, though even that prediction would have meant breaching EU regulations which state air pollution should be under control by 2015.

Separate figures from Public Health England show that air pollution is estimated to cause 1,199 excess deaths a year in the North East.

This includes 223 deaths in County Durham, 143 in Sunderland, 128 in Northumberland and 124 in Newcastle.

The pollution figures refer to levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air. This is a gas released when fuels are burned, including petrol or diesel in a car engine, and it can affect the way lungs work over long periods of time.

Estimated air pollution deaths each year in the North East


The European Union’s Air Quality Directive states that on average over the course of a year there should be no more than 40 micrograms - a millionth of a gram - of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air. And while pollution sometimes increases for short periods because of weather conditions, the EU target states that there should never be more than 200 micrograms of the gas per cubic metre of air even in the worst conditions.

EU member states such as the UK were expected to meet this target by 2015, but in 2011 the Department for the Environment published a report warning that it could not do so in the North East until 2020.

Now it has published a new report saying air quality in the North East won’t meet the target until 2025.

The report states: “This is largely due to the failure of the European vehicle emission standards for diesel cars to deliver the expected emission reductions.”

Public Health England, a Department of Health agency, has published estimated figures for deaths caused by air pollution in each local authority, for the first time.

Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis, Public Health England’s head of Air Pollution and Climate Change, said: “The estimates are intended to help local authorities consider air pollution among other public health issues.

Barry Gardiner Labour MP
Barry Gardiner Labour MP

“Much outdoor air pollution comes from burning fuels to generate heat and electricity, and from vehicles. Measures that significantly reduce particulate air pollution or cut exposure would be regarded as important public health initiatives.”

Barry Gardiner, Labour’s Shadow Environment Minister, said: “The Government is failing to meet even its own inadequate air pollution targets.

“Air pollution is one of the most significant public health issues in the UK causing 29,000 deaths every year. Children who go to schools close to main roads are growing up with reduced lung capacity and yet the Government’s response has been totally complacent.”

Ministers announced they were distributing an extra £1 million to local councils to help them deal with pollution.

Environment Minister Dan Rogerson said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and local authorities play a vital role - this funding will allow them to continue their good work. The Government is currently updating air quality plans and it will continue to work with the European Commission and local authorities.”


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