The government’s response to the coroner’s Prevention of Future Deaths report following the inquest into the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah fails to set out concrete actions to reduce harmful levels of ambient air pollution or limit exposure to toxic air, according to a statement from the British Safety Council.
The coroner had concluded that air pollution made a material contribution to Ella’s death in 2013. The government published its response to the report last week.
The response promises measures including raising the public's awareness about air pollution, extra funding for local authorities to implement education schemes, and a new public consultation on new legal targets for certain pollutants to launch next year.
But the British Safety Council said: “Once again, the government is planning a consultation on a legal limit for tiny particulate matter (PM2.5) but not until next year."
The body said it finds this “unbelievable when the government’s own environment bill – the purpose of which is to set a legal limit for PM2.5 – is currently being considered in Parliament. Thus, the delay until late next year for the setting of a legal limit lacks credibility, when the reality is that air pollution is the UK’s largest environmental health risk, greater than obesity and smoking, which causes 40,000 deaths a year and costs the economy a staggering £30 billion annually".
Although toxic air is potentially harmful to everyone, the risk of exposure is greater for outdoor workers, for whom the street is their workplace, says the BSC. It says that “this includes the people who deliver our letters, help our children to cross the road, empty our bins, and keep us safe from crime”.
Legally binding targets based on World Health Organization [WHO] guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK, argues the body.
It said the evidence at the inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah was that “there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be the minimum requirement”.
It states that the issue will only get worse if the government fails to take action to tackle the scale and urgency of this public health crisis.
Mike Robinson, chief executive of the British Safety Council, said: “The government should act immediately to enshrine into UK law the World Health Organization limits for PM2.5, as well as the WHO limits for other harmful pollutants including PM10, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.”
“We urge the government to step up and show greater urgency and accountability for reducing air pollution and quite frankly for strong leadership ahead of the UN Climate Conference being held in Glasgow in November. It seems that as air pollution is a silent killer, it is not being taken as seriously as it should by the government, but it is preventable.”
“On air pollution monitoring, improvements in monitoring across the UK is vital so that all regions and cities have the same accuracy of data as London. In this way, we can better understand where ‘hotspots’ exist and take steps to reduce exposure to toxic air.”