Stuart Jeffery

Tag: air pollution


I was in Ashford this morning speaking at a socially distanced rally against the proposed lorry park which will see 27 acres of farmland concreted over. Here is what I had to say:

Ashford. Thank you for inviting me here today and it is good to so many of you. I’m Stuart Jeffery, and I campaign against air pollution.

So, air: one of the four “elements”, one of the four humors, it is our inspiration, it is essential for life. Yet we treat the air that we breathe as an invisible dump. A dump that results in around 64,000 people dying prematurely each year, in this country alone.

Air pollution has been linked to cardiac disease, strokes, respiratory disease, lung cancer, low birth weight, lower IQ , kidney disease , ADHD , and potentially every organ in the body. And it exacerbates covid too.

It is one of the biggest killers.

The statistics are frightening.

And the problems is not just long term exposure. This isn’t something that could be endured for a year or so in the hope that a solution could be found. High levels of pollution kill quickly.

In 2019 Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England said: “This is a health emergency. … air pollution is now causing thousands of strokes, cardiac arrests and asthma attacks.”

Pollution triggers heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks.

Now I don’t live in Ashford so I have had to do some research and it appears that, according to your council, you have excellent air quality here. Legal limits haven’t been breached in years, apparently. It must be true, the numbers are published by the council.

It beggars belief though. A town with one of the busiest motorways running through it, a town just a few miles from the busiest shipping lane in the world, yet a town with reasonable air quality. As a health care professional I don’t do conspiracy theories, I look at the science, but I am just not convinced by the reports. And you know what they say about statistics!

The council now monitors around 50 sites around the borough but only for one pollutant, NO2. It doesn’t monitor particulate matter or ozone or any other the myriad of other pollutants.

So how will the lorry park affect you?

11,000 lorries a day heading to Dover. The uncertainty about the border – there is currently no deal with the EU. You know more than anyone what happens when Dover is closed or even slowed a bit. You get stack. Stationary traffic everywhere.

So isn’t putting it in a field helpful?

Firstly, using the site as a holding area – stack capacity: Two thousand lorries held one place will create a huge concentration of air pollution. Remember that stack was about 6,000 lorries along 20 miles of motorway, pollution that was spread over a wide area. Lorries run on diesel, the most polluting fuel for vehicles. Air pollution that will spill out into neighbouring areas. And space for 2,000 lorries to wait will not mean an end to the chaos of stack on the M20 or on the roads around Ashford.

Secondly, using the site for pre-border checks: Just as bad, if not worse. Slowly the lorries will creep though here as their paperwork is checked and corrected.

So what is the answer?

We need to get diesel powered freight off the road. Long haul freight needs to be by rail. Short journeys from distribution centres need to be made using electric lorries. That requires investment and political will.

We need to localise our economy. There is a reason that 11,000 lorries are trundling past. We need to grow most food locally and we need to manufacture locally. Globalisation of the economy has brought immense problems.

And we need either a workable deal with the EU, or perhaps we just need to apologise and reapply for membership.

Thank you. I’ll leave it there.

 


The cartoon graphic below is pretty accurate in terms of its overall message but I think it is missing a wave, air pollution. Air pollution kills 64,000 each year in the UK, a number which is surprisingly close to the number that covid may take.

The two problems are related, of course. Air pollution makes covid worse, i.e. people in polluted areas are more likely to die. The causes and solutions to air pollution are similar to climate change, much of the cause of air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels (and carbon rich fuels such as wood burning).

The other waves are connected too. The recession was triggered by covid, climate change and air pollution have similar drivers and biodiversity collapse, the biggest of the waves, will be exacerbate by climate change but reduced a little by recession.

Image may contain: text that says "MACKAT BIODIVERSITY COLLAPSE BESURE A CLIMATE CHANGE RECESSION COVID"

It’s the economy stupid. No, it’s the stupid economy. The drive for perpetual economic growth is as stupid as the search for a perpetual motion machine. You can’t have perpetual growth on a finite planet. There are limits to growth as the Club of Rome explained in 1971, learning that still hasn’t landed in humanities mind despite 50 years of opportunity.

One of the most frightening thing about the graphs to the right is that they were the business as usual predictions from Limits to Growth and show the wheels coming off just after 2020. Like now. Just a thought. It is almost as if the impacts growth of pollution and depletion have been quite accurate. What it is difficult to predict is exactly how those wheels fall off.

Not only do we have an economic paradigm of a need for perpetual growth that is not fit for purpose, our economies are exploitative too. We rely on cheap labour. We ignore externalities such as pollution. We value luxury over necessity. And so on.

A recession should benefit the environment except that there will be a drive to mitigate de-growth by cheapening labour future and increasing externalities.

We need a new approach to the economy, one that values necessity, one that accounts for the full cost of goods and services, one that ensures that everyone’s needs are met. One that is sustainable, doesn’t require perpetual growth and one that right-sized for our planet.


It has been described as an invisible killer. We obviously need air to breathe but when that air is polluted then it impacts on our health. A Lancet study shows that 8% of UK deaths are attributable to pollution equating to 50,000 people each year or 140 every day .

And it doesn’t seem to just be a long term contributor to early mortality. A study by Kings College London on just nine cities showed that high pollution days triggered an additional 124 cardiac arrests, 231 strokes and 193 admissions for childhood asthma.

Air pollution has been linked to cardiac disease, strokes, respiratory disease, lung cancer, low birth weight, lower IQ , kidney disease , ADHD , and potentially every organ in the body . The WHO estimates around 8 million deaths worldwide as a result of air pollution.

It is one of the biggest killers.

The statistics are frightening.

In 2019 Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England said: “This is a health emergency. As these figures show, air pollution is now causing thousands of strokes, cardiac arrests and asthma attacks.”

According to the UK government, the “cost of health impacts of air pollution was likely to exceed estimates of £8 to 20 billion” . There is even a government committee that studies the health impacts, COMEAP.

Outside of the UK the National Academies of Sciences and Medicine of South Africa, Brazil, Germany and the United States of America are calling for a “Global Compact” – a call to action, to tackle air pollution .

To give some specifics, the Kings College London study highlighted:

      • If higher air pollution days in London were lower instead, we could avoid 87 cardiac arrests each year.
      • Living near a busy road in London can contribute to 81 more out-of-hospital cardiac arrests each year.
      • If higher air pollution days in London were lower instead, we could avoid 144 emergency hospital admissions for stroke each year.
      • Living near a busy road in London may contribute to 230 hospital admissions for stroke each year.
      • Living near a busy road in London may contribute to 306 strokes each year.
      • If higher air pollution days in London were lower instead, we could avoid 74 hospital admissions each year for asthma in people aged below 14.
      • If higher air pollution days in London were lower instead, we could avoid 33 hospital admissions each year for asthma in adults.
      • Cutting air pollution in London by one fifth may result in 7,927 fewer children with low lung function each year.
      • Living near busy roads in London may contribute to 390 lung cancer cases.
      • Cutting air pollution in London by one fifth would result in 306 fewer lung cancer cases each year.
      • In London on high air pollution days, 142 more children with asthma experience asthma symptoms than on lower pollution days.
      • Living near busy roads in London may contribute to 144 babies born underweight each year.
      • Cutting air pollution in London by one fifth would result in 138 fewer babies born underweight each year
      • If higher air pollution days in London were lower instead, we could avoid 654 hospital admissions each year for respiratory disease.
      • If higher air pollution days in London were lower instead, we could avoid 153 hospital admissions each year for cardiovascular disease.
      • Living near busy roads in London may contribute to 821 coronary heart disease cases.
      • Cutting air pollution in London by one fifth may result in 1,885 fewer cases of coronary heart disease each year.
      • Air pollution may contribute to 4,067 more asthmatic children that live near busy roads in London experiencing bronchitic symptoms each year.
      • Cutting air pollution in London by one fifth could contribute to 3,685 fewer asthmatic children with bronchitic symptoms each year.
      • Living near busy roads in London may contribute to 1,598 cases of a chest infection (acute bronchitis) in children.
      • Cutting air pollution in London by one fifth may result in 3,683 fewer children with a chest infection (acute bronchitis) each year.
      • If higher air pollution days in London were lower instead, we could avoid 136 hospital admissions each year for COPD.
      • Across the other nine cities in the study: Bristol, Derby, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton:
          • Each year on average, higher air pollution days are responsible for 37 more cardiac arrests outside hospital than lower air pollution days.
          • Each year on average, higher air pollution days can send up to 137 more people to hospital for stroke than lower air pollution days.
          • An extra 50 children are hospitalised with asthma on days where air pollution is high compared to days where air pollution is low on average each year.
          • An extra 35 adults are taken to hospital with asthma on days of high air pollution compared to days with lower air pollution.
          • Cutting air pollution by one fifth would result in 1897 fewer children with low lung function each year.
          • Cutting air pollution by one fifth would result in 158 fewer lung cancer cases each year.
          • On high air pollution days, 90 more children with asthma experience asthma symptoms than on lower pollution days.
          • On high air pollution days, there are on average 384 more hospital admissions for respiratory disease each year than on lower air pollution days.
          • Each year on average, higher air pollution days can send up to 613 more people to hospital for respiratory disease than lower air pollution days.
          • On high air pollution days, there are on average 93 more hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease each year than on lower air pollution days.
          • Each year on average, higher air pollution days can send up to 169 more people to hospital for cardiovascular disease than lower air pollution days.
          • Cutting air pollution by one fifth would result in 432 fewer cases of coronary heart disease each year.
          • Cutting air pollution by one fifth would result in 917 fewer asthmatic children with bronchitic symptoms each year.
          • Cutting air pollution by one fifth would result in 798 fewer children with a chest infection (acute bronchitis) each year.
          • On high air pollution days, there are on average 179 more hospital admissions for COPD each year than on lower air pollution days.
          • Each year on average, higher air pollution days can send up to 265 more people to hospital for COPD than lower air pollution days.

Air: one of the four elements, one of the four humors, it is our inspiration, it is essential for life. Yet we treat the air that we breathe as an invisible dump.

Pollution kills, the science is certain. And the more pollution there is, the higher the number of deaths and rate of disease. While the Clean Air Acts of 1952 and 1993 have made a huge difference to visible pollution in the air, there is still too little action to reduce pollution that is less visible.

Many places in the UK have flouted EU laws on air pollution, and with Brexit there is every chance that pollution may worsen, yet at least 40,000 people die prematurely each year due to air pollution and recent research shows the spikes in deaths on days when pollution peaks.

It’s not all about traffic either, even though the effects of PM2.5 and NOx from vehicles has the biggest impact on health. There is less evidence of the impact of chemicals, such as the perfumes pumped out in public toilets, on health but significant evidence that a large number of people struggle with them.

This is why we need to campaign to reduce air pollution.


FoE have done a great job collating the annual data from councils on air pollution. Last year my home town of Maidstone was the sixth worst in the country so I was pleased to see that we are no longer in the top ten (Maidstone was 5th worst in 2019) even if we are still the second worst in the South East and 12th worst in the country.

Enough NIMBYism, these figures are dire. This is the top 12:

  1. Chideock Hill, West Dorset 97.7
  2. Station Taxi Rank, Sheffield 91.7
  3. North Street Clock Tower, Brighton 90.8
  4. Neville Street Tunnel, Leeds 88
  5. Strand, City of Westminster 88
  6. Walbrook Wharf, City of London 87
  7. Hickleton opp Fir Tree Close, Doncaster 86
  8. Marylebone Road, City of Westminster 85
  9. Euston Road, London Borough of Camden 82.3
  10. Hickleton, John O’Gaunts, Doncaster 82
  11. Cromwell Rd/ Earls Court Rd, LB Kensington/Chelsea 77.4
  12. Upper Stone St, Maidstone 77.2

Air pollution kills and it shortens lives, 40,000+ of them each year. It is illegal for the government to allow these figures to exceed 40ug/m3 yet ten places are double this and a thousand more exceed it. So where are the prosecutions?

There is so little action.

The move towards electric vehicles will reduce pollution but it will cause other problems. Public transport is off limits to many due to covid, but we need it back in play. Cycling and walking were easy during lockdown but our roads are back to previous traffic flows and back to being unpleasant and dangerous.

Last week’s half hearted announcement of £400m p.a. into cycling and the creating of “Ofcycle” – you never want to ofcycle, it hurts – are a very small step in the right direction but the government are still putting many time this money into roads, supporting fossil fuels and so on.