BHF welcomes pledge to adopt WHO guidelines on air pollution

16 July 2019        

Category: BHF Comment

The BHF has today welcomed Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s commitment to include a legally binding commitment to meeting World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on air pollution in the upcoming Environment Bill.

Although this is a step in the right direction, we need to see more detail on how and when the Government is going to achieve this.

The UK’s current legal limit for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is not as strict as the levels recommended by the WHO, putting thousands of people across the UK at risk.

Air pollution can make heart and circulatory conditions worse, or even cause new health problems. Research shows that it affects your heart and circulation in a number of ways and increase the risk of a heart attack, stroke, and hospitalisation due to heart failure.

Speaking today at Kew Gardens, Michael Gove said:

“Air pollution is the biggest single environmental cause of poor public health. Thousands of lives are shortened or impaired because of the particulate matter and toxic gases we still produce.

“And it’s the vulnerable in society – children, whose lungs are less developed, and elderly people suffering from existing heart and lung problems – who are most susceptible to poor air quality. There is an economic cost to air pollution too, from work days lost to illness and higher demand for NHS services.”

He added that we need to be “pace-setters not laggards” to improve the air we breathe as we leave the European Union. As such, he said we need to adopt the WHO’s stringent guidelines on air pollution.

Significant step

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation, said:

“Introducing the WHO’s guidelines on air pollution into UK law is a welcome and significant step, and could prove to be a landmark moment for the nation’s health. Every year in the UK, air pollution is responsible for up to 36,000 deaths, and we know the damage it can cause to everyone’s heart and circulatory health. We desperately need tougher, health-based legal limits and the time to act is now.

“We look forward to seeing more detail as to how this plan will be achieved, and it is critical that the next Prime Minister follows through on this commitment.  A clear and ambitious roadmap to fulfilling this goal by 2030 is urgently needed.

“Measures such as encouraging the uptake of low emissions vehicles and improving our cycling and walking infrastructure will all help to clean up our air. We’ve already seen many clean air initiatives in towns and cities across the UK. Now, this commitment must drive action at pace and scale right across the UK, in order to realise this bold ambition and protect the nation’s health.”

Find out more about our policies on air pollution