When we think of air pollution, the image of an overpopulated Asian metropolis covered in a thick layer of smog immediately springs to mind. However, it was the U.K. that recently made the headlines after air pollution levels in London briefly jumped over the levels recorded in Beijing, China.
Since 2010, the U.K. repeatedly failed to address breaches of legal air pollution laws in 16 zones including London, Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow. While England’s High Court of Justice ruled the lack of governmental actions to address air pollution violations as illegal in November 2016, few steps have been taken to improve the air condition. Only five days into 2017, the U.K. had already surpassed its annual air pollution limit.
Because of this, the European Commission has issued a final warning to the U.K. to clean up its dirty air earlier. If the U.K. fails to come up with a plan on how it intends to comply with the European Union (EU) pollution law within two months, it could face a court hearing and heavy fines, The Guardian reported.
Jenny Bates, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said that it is “shameful” that the European Union has to take legal actions against the British government before it starts to deal with the dangerous levels of dirty air. The U.K., however, is not the only European country to get a final notice before facing court. Germany, France, Italy, and Spain have also been warned and given two months to take action.
“Thousands of lives are lost each year, yet the British government simply sits on its hands and does nothing. If the threat of hefty fines and legal action is not enough, then what on earth will compel the government to act when we leave the EU?” Seb Dance, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and the Labor party’s environmental lead, told The Guardian.
Air pollution causing tens of thousands of early deaths each year
For years, London has been surpassing the approved level of air pollution, leading to the unnecessary deaths of many people who should still be with us today, said liberal MEP and environment committee member Catherine Bearde. She added that real lives have been wasted because the government failed to implement the pollution law.
According to a press release from the European Commission, more than 400,000 citizens in the EU die prematurely as a direct result of poor air quality each year. One of the primary killer pollutants, coming from vehicle exhausts, is nitrogen oxide. Nitrogen oxide has been linked to heart issues, lung disease, and premature death. In 2013, regular exposure to high levels of this common air pollutant caused almost 70,000 premature deaths in Europe. This is about three times the number of fatal road traffic accidents in the same year. Next to nitrogen dioxide, three other key pollutants – particulate matter, ozone, and sulfur dioxide – can cause severe health risks if limits are regularly exceeded. As stated by the World Health Organization (WHO), particulate matter affects more people than any other pollutant. Given its small nature, particulate matter with a diameter of 10 microns or less can easily penetrate deep into the lungs. Chronic exposure to these particles may contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer.
High readings of ozone at ground level usually occur on a sunny day since it is created through the reaction of sunlight with other air pollutants. High ozone levels in the air can trigger asthma attacks and breathing problems.
Lastly, sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas which is created when fossil fuels are burned to produce heat and power. High levels of sulfur dioxide in the air can cause eye irritation and breathing difficulties while increasing hospitalization and mortality rates among people with an existing heart disease.
In 2012, outdoor air pollution in cities and rural areas caused three million premature deaths worldwide. The WHO is confident that, if we reduce air pollution, the number of people suffering a stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, or respiratory illnesses will significantly go down too. (RELATED: Find more information