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TOUGH NEW TARGETS FOR CUTTING AIR POLLUTION - MEACHER

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First review of Air Quality Strategy 2000 ...
First review of Air Quality Strategy 2000

Tough new targets to cut air pollution further were announced today by environment minister Michael Meacher.

Following latest expert advice, new targets for particles, benzene, carbon monoxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons mean that people living in the United Kingdom should be enjoying even cleaner air within the coming decade.

Publishing a consultation paper to update the air quality strategy, Michael Meacher set out proposals to cut long term particle pollution levels by 2010 by at least 50% so that:

* in the UK generally, average daily levels of particles will not exceed 50 micrograms per cubic metre on more than seven days a year. The average level through the year will be not more than 20 micrograms per cubic metre.

There will be specific targets for London and for Scotland where development, industrial activity and transport levels differ markedly:

* in London, the target for the end of 2010 is that average levels will not exceed 50 micrograms per cubic metre on more than 10 - 14 days a year, and that the average level throughout the year will not be more than 23 - 25 micrograms per cubic metre;

* in Scotland, the target for the end of 2010 is that average daily levels will not exceed 50 micrograms per cubic metre on more than seven days a year, and that the average level through the year will be no more than 18 micrograms per cubic metre.

The government is also proposing that the mayor and London local authorities should work towards an annual target of 20 micrograms per cubic metre by 2015, identifying cost effective and proportionate local action to make this progress possible.

Health experts advise that long-term exposure to particles, which can be caused by emissions from traffic and industry, can cause premature death, particularly from heart disease. They consider that these long-term effects of particle air pollution on health are at least ten times greater than the short-term effects on which present policies are based.

Although the exact number of people affected is unknown, experts suggest that cutting levels of fine particles by five per cent could lead to gains in life expectancy of between 3 and 6.5 months if 1 million people are affected. The Government believes that the latest expert evidence, published by COMEAP, points firmly to the need for further action to ensure that levels of particles in air continue to fall. Today's new targets, set in response COMEAP's findings, will encourage significant further cuts in particle air pollution.

Today's proposals also involve new, tougher targets for benzene and carbon monoxide and, for the first time, a target for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). The targets proposed for benzene and PAH both reflect latest health advice. The target for carbon monoxide has been strengthened in response to the recently agreed EU limit value.

Michael Meacher said:

'Air quality is improving year on year. In recent years we have seen the levels of particle air pollution fall significantly as new policy measures to cut emissions from industry and traffic take effect.

'But the latest advice from health experts shows that particle air pollution is still having a significant impact on health. Recent evidence suggests that long-term exposure to particle air pollution can lead to premature death, particularly from heart disease.

'The proposals published today involve a significant strengthening of our air quality targets for particles and other important air pollutants. They confirm the Government's commitment to respond promptly to the latest advice from health experts.'

Notes

Air Quality Strategy

The latest Air Quality Strategy was published in January 2000. The Strategy is part of the government's overall aim to improve the quality of life across the UK. It sets targets for reducing levels of eight important air pollutants and the framework in which everyone, from individuals to big business, has a role to play in improving air quality.

The Strategy explains that the present target for particles to be met across the UK by the end of 2004 is seen as a staging post and not a final outcome; work had been set in hand to consider the prospects for strengthening the target.

Particles and health - Advice from Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP)

The new targets for particles announced today are the outcome of a wide-ranging review of scientific, technical and economic evidence. It is in particular a response to the latest advice from the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) which suggests that people exposed to particles over the long term are at greater risk of premature death, particularly from heart disease.

Particles are associated with a range of short-term health effects, including effects on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, asthma and death. In its 1998 report, the Dept of Health's expert Committee (COMEAP) suggested that that in 1996 the early death of 8,100 vulnerable people and 10,500 hospital admissions in the UK were associated with respiratory disease affected by particle air pollution. These deaths are among people who are already very ill and are likely to be brought forward by a few weeks.

COMEAP has since looked at the health effects from long-term exposure to particle air pollution. In its report published on 1 May 2001, the Committee suggests that emerging evidence points to the chronic health effects of particle air pollution being substantially more significant than the acute effects. The Committee considers that on the basis of studies carried out in the United States, an estimated 0.007 to 4.1 million life years might be gained in this country per 1(g/m3 (microgramme per cubic metre) drop in concentrations of particle air pollution. This represents a reduction of about 5% on present levels. The wide range reflects the uncertainties involved. The Committee takes the view in its report that an estimate towards the lower end of the range (0.2-0.5 million life years across the population) is more likely.

This represents an average gain of 1.5 to 3.5 days per person. However, although everyone is exposed, it is likely that only some of the population is susceptible to the adverse effects of long term exposure to air pollution. This would mean that some people would not gain anything, whilst those affected would gain more than the average figure of a few days. For example, if only 1 million rather than 52 million people were affected, the gain would be around 3 to 6.5 months per person. The Committee's report explains that the number of people affected is unknown, and so an accurate calculation of the gain in the susceptible population is not possible.

This effect is at least 10 times greater than the short-term health effects of day to day changes in particle air pollution suggested by the Committee in its 1998 report.

Sources of particles

Particles (PM10) have three predominant source types. Concentrations of PM10 consist of primary particles, arising from combustion sources (including road traffic), secondary particles, mainly sulphate and nitrate formed by chemical reactions in the atmosphere, and coarse particles, suspended soils and dusts, seasalt, biological particles and particles from construction work.

PM10 is composed of each of the three source types. In general terms, the three source types each make up roughly one-third of total long-term average PM10 concentrations at urban background locations. However, the relative contribution of each source type varies from day to day, depending on meteorological conditions and quantities of emissions from mobile and static sources. The fine particle fraction (PM2.5) is composed predominately of primary and secondary particles. Coarse particles are particles in the range from PM2.5-PM10.

UK emissions account for about 80% of the primary fraction. Emissions in mainland Europe contribute up to about 20% to primary particles in the UK. This may be much larger during short-term peak episodes. Emissions from mainland Europe make a more significant contribution to secondary particles. In a year with typical meteorology, about 15% of total annual average PM10 concentrations (about 50% of secondary particles) are derived from mainland Europe. In years when easterly winds are more frequent, emissions from mainland Europe account for a much higher proportion particularly in south and east England.

Air Quality Strategy's present objectives - new proposals

Present Objective Proposed Objective

Particles (as PM10) UK 24-hour mean of 50 (g/m3 not exceed more than 35 times a year annual mean of 40(g/m3 both to be met by end of 2004 UK (apart from London & Scotland) 24-hour mean of 50(g/m3 not exceed more than 7 times a year annual mean of 20(g/m3

both to be met by end of 2010

London 24-hour mean of 50(g/m3 not exceed more than 10-14 times a year annual mean of 23 - 25(g/m3 both to be met by end of 2010

It is also proposed that London should work towards a provisional 20(g/m3 annual mean objective after 2010, with the aim of achieving it by 2015 where cost effective and proportionate local action can be identified.

Scotland 24-hour mean of 50(g/m3 not exceed more than 7 times a year annual mean of 18(g/m3

both to be met by end of 2010

Benzene 16.25 (g/m3 (5ppb) as running annual mean to be met by end of 2003 3.25(g/m3(1ppb) as running annual mean to be met by end of 2010

Carbon monoxide 11.6 mg/m3 (10ppb) as a running 8-hour mean to be met by end of 2003 10mg/m3 (8.6ppb) as a running 8-hour mean to be met by end of 2003

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) 0.25ng/m3 as annual average mean to be met by end of 2010

(g/m3 = micrograms (one millionth of a gram) per cubic metre

mg/m3 = milligrams (one thousandth of a gram) per cubic metre

ng/m3 = nanograms (one thousand millionth of a gram)per cubic metre

ppb = parts per billion

ppm = parts per million

Action to reduce particles

Government has already set in place a range of measures that will help to reduce emissions of particles. Government's Ten Year 2010 Transport Plan, July 2000, sets out a programme of substantial increased investment of£180bn over next 10 years to improve public transport, cut congestion and reduce pollution. Tighter European vehicle emission and fuel standards already in place and coming in during the next few years will reduce emissions of particles and other air pollutants substantially. The new Integrated Pollution and Prevention Control (IPPC) authorisation regime for industrial processes will also contribute to the downward trend in particle air pollution. Economic analysis to inform the review of the AQS objectives for particles.

To accompany the Air Quality Strategy (AQS) Consultation Document, the Interdepartmental Group on Costs and Benefits (IGCB) have produced a report 'An Economic Analysis to inform the review of the Air Quality Strategy Objectives for Particles' which is also published today. The purpose of this report is to present the economic analysis undertaken to assess the costs and benefits of potential measures to reduce emissions and concentration levels of particles beyond those reductions which are forecast to result from measures embodied in current and planned legislation. A summary of this document is available from DEFRA Press Office. The full report will be available on DEFRA's website.

The DEFRA-led Interdepartmental Group on Costs and Benefits (IGCB) consists of government economists and other experts from all relevant Departments including: DEFRA, DTLR, HM Treasury, DTI, DH, CO, EA, SE, SEPA, NAW, DOENI.

Trend in air pollution

The trend in urban air quality is continuing to improve. Michael Meacher announced on 4 May this year that in 2000 in urban areas there were 16 days of moderate or higher air pollution on average per site, the lowest figure recorded since the series began in 1993. Days of moderate or higher air pollution caused by particles have fallen from 34 in 1993 to 5 in 2000.

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