UK air pollution levels come under attack

1999 a poor year for UK air quality; traffic must be reduced, says NGO

Data released today by Friends of the Earth (FoE) demonstrate that air quality in the UK has shown its "biggest deterioration since modern records began", the pressure group claims.

FoE's 1998 statistics show a 53% rise in the number of days when rural air pollution, resulting mainly from road traffic, exceeded health standards. This was followed by a 20% increase for urban areas in 1999. The group's "air quality indicator" is based on data from the UK government's 34 urban and 15 rural monitoring sites. FoE claims that 1999 levels of nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particles, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide exceeded health standards on average one day in eight in rural areas and one in 13 at urban sites.

The data are in sharp contrast with British deputy prime minister John Prescott's description of the 1998 government figures as showing "the biggest improvement in air quality since records began". The UK government pledged to cut particle pollution last year ({ENDS Daily 13 January 1999}).

The National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection (NSCA) told ENDS Daily this afternoon that rises in 1999 air pollution show rather that 1998 was an unusually successful year. "Trends for the last seven years show a downward shift. At the same time, we need stricter traffic controls," a spokesperson said. According to NSCA, the 1999 air pollution increase has been linked to meteorological factors such as strong easterly winds from continental Europe and a greater prevalence of high pressure systems.

FoE's announcement was timed to coincide with the government's air quality strategy, to be released this Wednesday.

The environment ministry has dismissed the FoE data as a "complete misrepresentation of our figures". "Only ozone emissions in rural areas increased in 1999. Particulate matter and sulphur dioxide emissions have actually gone down," a spokesperson told ENDS Daily. "London has a severe air quality problem, yet the government hopes to relax the [particulate] standard," an FoE spokesperson responded.

Follow Up:
FoE, tel: +44 20 74 90 15 55; UK environment ministry, tel: +44 20 78 90 30 00; NSCA, tel: +44 1273 326 313.

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