The following letter is being coordinated by Medact Bristol to call on the Mayor of Bristol, Martin Rees, to act to protect our health and take serious action on air pollution:
Dear Marvin Rees,
We as healthcare professionals have long recognised the devastating impact of air pollution on the health of our patients.
Research shows that exposure to small particles (PM10 and PM2.5) and gases, most notably nitrogen dioxide (NO2), from fossil-fuel derived air pollution have major adverse consequences on health. Air pollution plays a role in many of the serious health issues of our day – including cancer, stroke, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, obesity and changes linked to dementia1 – and is contributing to around 40,000 early deaths each year in the UK2, and 500,000 in Europe alone. Crucially, the Royal College of Physicians in London report the estimated annual cost from pollution related health problems at 20 billion pounds annually. Air pollution is a public health emergency and we urge you to take action now.
The damage can occur across a lifetime from conception onwards. Alarming new research has shown that particles, including those from exhaust emissions, can cross the placenta3, affecting foetal development4. We know that pollution suppresses the growth of children’s lungs, which can increase a child’s risk of asthma exacerbations and infections like pneumonia5. This harm to babies and children continues to impact them throughout their lives, with those in the lowest income neighbourhoods often amongst those most affected due to their proximity to busy roads.
This October it was announced that concentrations of this toxic gas in our cities are much higher than previously feared6, therefore immediate action by Bristol City Council is of paramount importance to protect the health of its citizens. The impact of air pollution lasts far into the future. There is evidence, however, that reductions in concentrations of PM2.5 do result in improvements in life expectancy7. For this reason, air quality improvements we make now will have long-lasting benefits on our population and its future generations.
We call on you to commit to:
- Introducing a charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in the city. Due to the scale of the public health crisis, we urge you to apply the CAZ to all vehicles and create it as large as possible. We therefore recommend Option 3 from the packages of measures from the Strategic Outline Case.
- Ensuring that the charges do not disproportionately affect those from poorer communities by incorporating robust and adequate equality-focused measures such as grace periods, exemptions and funded alternative transport.
- Ensuring that all revenues from a charging CAZ are ring-fenced for improving alternatives to car use. This should include improved and reduced cost public transport, great access to safe cycling and walking routes, as well as subsidised travel for low income workers.
- Enforcing strong and far-reaching policies to reduce the number of vehicles, and especially diesel vehicles, on the road.
- Call on the government to create a diesel scrappage fund that sees the automotive companies who created this healthcare emergency facilitate the phase out of diesel vehicles.
- Introducing better, safer, more efficient and cheaper fossil-free public transport across the city as a real alternative to car transport, starting with the most polluted areas.
- Developing new and improved cycle paths to encourage people to switch more journeys to active travel. This will not only reduce air pollution but will improve health, quality of life, the environment, and local productivity.
- Mounting an effective information campaign to highlight to the general public the extent of this public health crisis and encourage participation in addressing it.
1. Walton, H. et al. Understanding the Health Impacts of Air Pollution in London – King’s College London. Report For: Transport for London and the Greater London Authority, July 2015. (https://www.kcl.ac.uk//lsm/research/divisions/aes/research/ERG/research- projects/HIAinLondonKingsReport14072015final.pdf)
2. Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution. The Royal College of Physicians, February 2016. (https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every- breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution)
3. Abstract no: PA360, “Late Breaking Abstract – Do inhaled carbonaceous particles translocate from the lung to the placenta?”. Norrice Liu et al; Occupational and environmental lung diseases: asthma and the airways; https://erscongress.org/
4. C.A. Hansen, A.G. Barnett, G. Pritchard The effect of ambient air pollution during early pregnancy on fetal ultrasonic measurements during mid-pregnancy. Environ. Health Perspect., 116 (2008), pp. 362-369
5. Grigg J. Suppression of lung growth by environmental toxins. Thorax 2016; 71:99– 100
6. Supplement to the UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations. Department for Environmental Food & Rural Affairs; Department for Transport, October 2018 (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attach ment_data/file/746100/air-quality-no2-plan-supplement.pdf)
7. C. Arden Pope III, Ph.D., Majid Ezzati, Ph.D., and Douglas W. Dockery, Fine-Particulate Air Pollution and Life Expectancy in the United States, N Engl J Med 2009;360:376-86