The Royal College of Physicians' (RCP's) special adviser on air quality, Professor Stephen Holgate, said that the UK government has 'a clear responsibility to take urgent action on the dangerously harmful levels of air pollution' following the release of a new joint select committee report on air quality.
Improving air quality, jointly published today by four select committees – the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA), Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees – calls for a new clean air act, a clean air fund and a national air quality support programme, all of which the RCP has been campaigning for. It also declared air pollution a 'national health emergency', and said it was 'unacceptable that successive governments have failed to protect the public from poisonous air'.
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Commenting on the report, Professor Holgate said:
The findings of the Improving air quality report demonstrate that the government has a clear responsibility to take urgent action on the dangerously harmful levels of air pollution in the UK. We are incredibly pleased to see that a wide range of our recommendations in our groundbreaking report Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution have been adopted by the four select committees, including prioritising the need for legislation, which enshrines our right to breathe clean air in law.
The report also endorses the RCP’s calls for pollution levels to be monitored and made publicly available at key spots within local communities where the most vulnerable have the greatest exposure – such as near schools, hospitals and care homes. We are determined to ensure that air quality should not be at risk following the UK’s departure from the EU, and we firmly support the report’s recommendations that UK air pollution standards are at least as high as equivalent standards in the EU, and that the relevant enforcement agency must have equivalent powers as equivalent agencies in the EU.
The RCP will also continue to lead the way for the health sector in campaigning for cleaner air, playing a visible and vocal role in tackling air pollution.
Air pollution cuts short an estimated 40,000 lives across the country each year, costing the UK an annual £20 billion, with children, the elderly, and those with existing medical conditions at the greatest risk. Poor air quality has been classified as the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, and was described by the World Health Organization as 'a public health emergency'.