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Breathing is bad for your health in Manchester: concerned citizens call for action on air pollution

Illegal and health-destroying levels of air pollution across Greater Manchester have forced concerned citizens of Manchester to call on the mayoral candidates to act. Doctors, religious leaders, academics and teachers have signed an open letter asking for a new Clean Air Act for the 21st century, enshrining our right to breathe clean air.

The GM mayor may have to be the one to take decisive action on air pollution as Theresa May’s Conservative government continues its inadequate actions on air quality by opposing a court order to publish its air pollution strategy by 4pm last Monday. Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, accused the government of “running scared” from the diesel lobby. Dr Jo Murkens, an expert in constitutional law, said the government’s decision went “against the spirit of this court judgement; it is also dishonest”.

The legal limit for annual mean concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a pollutant produced in vehicle exhaust fumes, is 40 micrograms per metre cubed ( 40 μg/m3 ). The latest government figures show that legal limit being broken across GM with mean levels of NO2 at 55 μg/m3.

Forty thousand premature deaths a year are caused by air pollution in the UK; 23,500 of these are caused by NO2 . Nationally a staggering 40 million people, 59% of the population, are living in areas with illegal levels of pollution from diesel vehicles. More than 2000 schools nationally are closed to roads with damaging levels of air pollution, with 20 of the 464 education establishments in Manchester affected. Jo Taylor, Headteacher at Victoria Park Junior School in Stretford, said:

“I’m extremely worried about pupils’ health. Every day we have to put up with harmful amounts of toxic air. That’s why I’ve signed this letter and am calling on the next mayor to urgently reduce traffic emissions around the school gates and beyond.”

The open letter urges the mayoral candidates to put the “health of our communities first”, and do everything in their power to meet legal limits for air pollution. It also describes the economic opportunities possible by creating jobs in industries involved with clean technology and recommends the use of Clean Air Zones and greater investment in public transport and cycling. The pernicious effects of air pollution that affect us from cradle to an early grave are clearly described:

“Air pollution is affecting the health of people right here in Greater Manchester, from the womb to old age. It also affects the youngest, the oldest and the poorest most. It is linked to premature births and stunted lung growth in children and is a real risk for those with a heart or lung condition, increasing the chance of being hospitalised or dying from an attack. In Greater Manchester alone, it is estimated that 299,700 people have cardiovascular disease and 187,800 people have asthma.”

Air pollution was described as a public health emergency by MPs in April last year. This has had little effect on changing government policy, which has repeatedly failed to tackle the issue. Its latest failure has been the delay in complying with the High Court order for publication of its air pollution policy, following the dismissal of the original plan as being so poor as to be unlawful.

Legal climate campaigners ClientEarth are responsible for harrying our national government through the courts over their failure to abide by environmental laws, which are there to protect our health and the environment. In court today to provide evidence against the governments late attempt to delay publishing of their air pollution strategy, they saw the governments challenge refused by the court. The government will now have to publish their draft plan on the 9 May, directly after local elections on the 4 May but crucially before the general election on the 8 June.

Andrea Lee, a campaigner with ClientEarth, says of the open letter:

“This letter shows how concerned doctors, teachers and religious leaders in Manchester are about the city’s damaging levels of air pollution. They are right to call for a new Clean Air Act, which would help protect all of us from toxic air.”

Wealth as well as health is adversely affected by poor air quality, as the World Health Organisation estimates air pollution costs the UK economy £54 billion a year, or just over half the cost of the NHS England budget of £101 billion for 2015/16. Which begs the question, why does the government not act?

The Healthy Air Campaign is attempting to convince the government to do the right thing and introduce a Clean Air Act fit for the 21st century, to reproduce the benefits seen after the Clean Air Act of 1956 was enacted in response to London’s Great Smog of 1952. The signatories of the letter implore the next GM mayor to join with other organisations nationally to make this dream a reality.

A previous report by The Meteor asked five of the GM mayoral candidates the following question. “What actions will you take to protect the environment, particularly in regards to the green belt, air pollution and carbon dioxide production?”

The answers provided by Andy Burnham (Labour), Sean Anstee (Conservative), Jane Brophy (LibDem) and Shneur Odze (Ukip) can be read by clicking here. The answer to the same question by Green Party candidate Will Patterson can be viewed by clicking here.

There will be another chance to question the mayoral candidates about their plans to tackle air pollution and protect the environment at the GM Mayoral Hustings: What About the Environment, Friday 28 April at the Friends Meeting House, 6:15 pm, in Manchester.

Conrad Bower

Featured Image via Wikipedia Commons

Manchester Friends of the Earth campaign for clean air and other environmental issues. Click here to find out more.

Check whether your child’s school is affected by air pollution on the Gaurdians interactive map, click here.

GreatAir Manchester is a website that monitors air quality across Greater Manchester, including two sites in Manchester. For example The NO2 levels at the Oxford Rd monitoring station today were 78 μg/m3. Click here to find out more.

Article amended 28 April 2107: The release of the governments draft plan on air pollution has been changed to the correct date of 9 May 2017

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