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Londoners should have been better informed on air quality

21 June 2016

Londoners should have been better informed on more than 100 occasions during the last two and a half years about the dangers to their health from the capital’s filthy air, according to worrying new figures revealed today by the Mayor of London.

In the light of the new figures, Sadiq Khan has directed Transport for London urgently to develop a package of alerts to better inform Londoners when air quality is at dangerous levels.

The statistics, from King’s College London, show that the Saharan Dust episode in April 2014 was one of the 49 times air pollution climbed to moderate or higher that year. During the episode, the London ambulance service reported a 14 per cent rise in 999 calls for patients with respiratory issues and a higher than normal volume of calls from people with breathing difficulties, asthma and heart problems.

There were a further 48 episodes of particularly poor air quality in 2015 - while this year has seen 22 incidents to date.

During these episodes, current Government advice is that adults and children with lung problems, adults with heart problems, and older people, should avoid or reduce strenuous physical activity. Government advice is that even healthy Londoners need to consider taking action during high or very high periods of air pollution.
The previous Mayor did issue basic information on the capital’s air quality. This included limited alerts and advertising through the Breathe Better Together campaign and the publication of information on the Greater London Authority’s website. He also tweeted once during the Saharan Dust incident. Sadiq Khan is clear that these basic interventions did not go far enough.

The European Union has established the legal framework which enables London to tackle pollution. Nearly half the long-term health impacts of poor air quality are caused by pollution outside London. This includes diesel fumes and industrial emissions transported from the continent.

Some 75 per cent of the cardiovascular hospital admissions associated with small, dangerous particles known as PM2.5 * result from sources outside London. The Mayor believes that air pollution is a problem that can only be solved by close working with our European partners.

With the latest medical research showing that the equivalent of nearly 10,000 Londoners are dying every year because of London’s toxic air and the capital failing to meet the legal requirements for pollutants such as Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Sadiq Khan is more determined than ever to implement hard-hitting measures in the capital that will lower pollution levels at a fast rate.

He will launch a formal public policy consultation in a matter of weeks on a major package of measures to tackle air pollution in London.

He is also working with Transport for London to develop a campaign that will see Londoners kept more informed about the state of the capital’s air. Proposals currently being considered include roadside signs on the most polluted roads to alert Londoners when the air is dangerously bad, promoting the use of the free airTEXT service and a more effective use of social media and traditional media. He will announce details of this campaign shortly.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The previous Mayor failed to consistently send out strong enough messaging regarding the quality of London’s air despite on-going pleas from health campaigners. These figures show that on numerous occasions, Londoners could have been given better, higher profile warnings and taken action to limit their exposure during episodes of extremely high pollution.

“There are of course times when air quality incidents are not man-made such as the Saharan Dust incident and could not have been prevented with measures such as cleaner buses and a wider Ultra Low Emission Zone. However, I will do everything humanly possible to put the well-being of Londoners first and will be taking robust steps to clean up the capital’s filthy air and drive down the number of days when air quality is dangerously high. In the short term, I want to ensure Londoners are given clear information and advice during these episodes, when they can take practical measures to protect their health.”

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, said: “Two thirds of people with asthma find that air pollution leaves them fighting for breath, putting them at risk of a potentially life threatening asthma attack. It is vital that Londoners with asthma know when pollution levels are high so they can take the steps they need to keep themselves safe.

“We fully support the Mayor’s plans to improve air quality in London. According to the latest figures from the Health Survey for England toxic air affects nearly 600,000 people living in the capital with asthma. We urgently need significant investment into asthma research to find practical solutions to this invisible killer and we need governments across the UK to take action to reduce pollution levels.

“During the Saharan dust episode in April 2014, Asthma UK polled over 1,000 people with asthma and found that a third of respondents (30%) had had an asthma attack as a result of the pollution, and 84% reported using their blue reliever inhaler more than usual. More than half said they had avoided going outside and 39% sought advice about managing their asthma.”

Proposals set to be included in the forthcoming consultation will include:

• Extending the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to the North Circular Road and the South Circular Road and the possibility of bringing forward the introduction earlier than 2020. Under current plans the ULEZ will only operate within the Congestion Charging Zone and it is due to come in from 2020.

• Implementing an extra charge on the most polluting vehicles entering central London using the Congestion Charge payment and enforcement system from 2017 (this would not mean an increase in the Congestion Charge but just the method for collecting the extra charge from people driving the most polluting vehicles).

• Introducing ULEZ standards for heavy vehicles London-wide from 2020.

• Giving the go-ahead for Transport for London (TfL) to start work on the costs and challenges of implementing a diesel scrappage scheme as part of a wider national scheme delivered by the Government.

• Proposals to work with the Government to tackle air pollution on a national and international level.

In a further bid to tackle air quality in the capital, the Mayor has also joined a High Court challenge of the Government’s air pollution plans as an Interested Party. Environmental lawyers ClientEarth are suing the Government for the second time in a year, having won a case at the Supreme Court in 2015 which ordered ministers to fulfil their legal duty to cut pollution in “the shortest time possible”. The new case argues the government is still failing to do this. The Mayor has now set out his view that London can meet the legal standards for NO2 well before 2025, which is the date the Government’s Air Quality Action Plan projects London will be compliant.

Notes to editors

· Defra, King’s College London and airTEXT currently provide forecasts for air pollution in London. The above data is based on King’s College London’s forecasts system which has been in place since 2013.

· Alert forecasts are calculated at background sites to reflect wider London conditions rather than just respond to hotspots. This explains why you can have a number of days of poor air quality recorded at a specific site like Putney High Street’s kerbside monitor without corresponding London-wide air quality alerts being triggered.

· The alerts correspond to the Daily Air Quality Index, which also includes health advice about how to respond. More information is available here:

· It should be noted that the number of warnings referred to in the press release are based on forecasts. However, these are then cross checked as real air quality conditions develop on the day and are adjusted as required.

· Government advice is for the general population should also take action in high and very high levels of pollution.

· See attached list of occasions when public should have been better informed about London’s air quality.

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