Pollutionwatch: how a narrow focus on air pollution limits can backfire

Pollutionwatch: how a narrow focus on air pollution limits can backfire

There are calls for the UK to adopt WHO guidelines as legal limits, but a new approach may be needed

The environment bill is due to return to parliament in the autumn, providing an opportunity to redesign our pollution laws for the 21st century. The British Medical Association, more than 20 nursing colleges, the Lancet and the British Medical Journal have added their voices to those calling for tighter air pollution limits in the bill, to match the current World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. This year a coroner’s report on the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah also called on the government to adopt the WHO guidelines as legal limits.

Legal limits on poor air were first set across the UK and Europe in the 1980s. But we now know there is no safe threshold to use as a legal limit. This was the conclusion from two recent studies that looked at the health records of 61 million people in the US and nearly 9 million Canadians, and two studies that researched daily changes in air pollution and the health of people in cities around the globe, one looking at 652 cities and the other at 398.

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