Greenpeace | Our air is illegal


06 January 2017

it’s January 6th. We’re a week into 2017, and the UK has just breached its air pollution limit for the entire year. [1]

This isn’t ok. Nearly 70,000 people are calling on the government to get this deadly pollution under control. Will you join in?

Toxic diesel exhaust fumes harm children’s lungs and cuts short thousands of lives [2], but the government isn’t doing enough to fix the problem. In fact they’re not even close.

So we’ve brought back an old friend to make sure today’s shocking breach can’t be ignored. Helped by a crew of Greenpeace activists, Mary Poppins is flying over Parliament today, reminding politicians that their inaction is costing lives.

Dirty air isn’t just a big city problem. Last year, people in 169 different places in the UK – from Calderdale to Caerphilly – breathed illegal levels of pollution. [3]

Lots of things contribute to this crisis, but there’s one obvious place to start – the thousands of new diesel cars rolling onto our roads every day. Diesel cars were sold as a green choice, but carmakers lied about how much they pollute. [4][5]

We shouldn’t penalise people who bought diesel cars in good faith. But we can stop putting more of them on the roads. If companies can’t make these cars meet proper pollution standards, they shouldn’t be allowed to sell them.

It’s time to stop the sale of new diesel cars, and make sure cleaner options are in everyone’s reach. Nearly 70,000 people are calling on the government to make it happen – now’s your chance to get on board.

We can do this. Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have already committed to phasing out diesel cars altogether. [6] And the UK government admits that air pollution is a problem, but they won’t properly deal with it unless they feel some pressure. That means making lots of noise on days like today, when the scale of the problem really stands out.

Like all the best stories, Mary Poppins teaches and inspires us. She’s an invitation to search for our best selves, and a reminder to care for those around us – especially children. And as a new year dawns full of fresh promise and old problems, we need her example more than ever.

Let’s make air pollution a thing of the past. The movement for clean air is growing, but we need to step it up. Will you add your name?

Tell Theresa May to:
Cut toxic emissions. Ban sales of new diesel cars in the UK.

FoE | Parts of the UK have just broken their air pollution limits for the entire year




06 January 2017


We’re only 6 days into 2017 and parts of the UK have just broken their air pollution limits for the entire year [1]. More places are set to follow in the coming days.

So let’s make this the year that government finally takes air pollution seriously – and commits to get dirty diesel vehicles off our streets.

Public pressure has already seen cities across the world ditch diesel [2].

And just last month we secured a UK-wide ban on the advertisement of the removal of car pollution filters [3].

Together we are turning the tide against air pollution – thank you for all you’ve done already.

But to fight the scourge of early deaths we need our government to commit to rid our roads of diesel vehicles by 2025.

The more of us that join the call to end diesel, the harder it will be for decision makers to ignore us. The time for action is now – let’s make 2017 a turning point in the fight for clean air.

Sign to stop the pollution scandal
“I want the UK to commit to end diesel use on our roads by 2025. Drivers must be supported to use clean alternatives and better public transport.”

Fight the blight of air pollution and save lives. Sign up to ditch diesel today.

It’s a shocking stat: air pollution causes 40,000 early deaths in the UK every single year.

Other health impacts of dirty air – asthma, heart disease and even lung cancer – wreak havoc on people’s lives. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Today, pollution from traffic is the biggest problem, with diesel vehicles the worst of all.

That’s why we’ve got to ditch diesel.

Ditching diesel won’t fix air pollution entirely, but it’s a critical step in the fight for clean air.

Let’s send a clear message: the UK must phase out diesel from vehicles by 2025 and help people access clean alternatives instead.

Together we can build irresistible pressure to end diesel and make the air cleaner for all of us.

[1] Monitoring stations are dotted around the UK and take readings hourly. Pollution levels are only allowed to breach the set limit 18 times a year. At the time of writing Brixton Road in South London has already broken the limit 24 times, and more will follow soon.
[2] Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City have made commitments towards phasing out diesel vehicles from their roads.
[3] Scale of diesel scandal unknown as garages banned from advertising pollution filter removal: get the full story.

Cllr | The air that you breathe…


The air that you breathe…

One of the first announcements of the new Mayor of London was that of improving air quality was going to be a prime public health issue for him to tackle. Catherine Heffernan says why this is so important.

A clean air mask is seen placed on the face of the Oliver Cronwell statute outside the Houses of Parliament by Greenpeace activists to protest against air pollution quality in London and cities across the UK.

The announcement was perhaps no surprise given that local and national media have extensively covered the recent World Health Organisation [WHO] report that pollution had risen by 8% in the past five years.

While fast growing cities in the Middle East, south east Asia and the western Pacific were highlighted as showing pollution levels at five to 10 times the recommended WHO levels, UK cities had average levels of air pollution above legal limits.

Port Talbot was purported to be the worst in the UK for dangerous particles. London didn’t fare too well either, with reports that its level of PM2.5 – that is, tiny particulates of pollution which are less than 2.5mm in diameter had contributed to an estimated 4,267 deaths in 2008. Another article reported that due to the large volume of nitrogen dioxide also present in the air, up to 10,000 deaths could be attributed to breathing in fumes.

These reports very much hit home at a recent public health executive meeting I attended where I learned that 29,000 excess deaths in the UK each year have a causal factor of poor air quality, from cars, buses and lorries. (Air pollution is predominantly caused by road traffic). Effects are over a lifetime rather than being immediate.  Moreover, one in four adults further deteriorate their air quality by smoking.

Air pollution does affect health, but while there are concerns about the quality of air in many urban areas, the air pollution in the UK does not rise to levels at which people need to make major changes to their daily lives to  avoid exposure, such as not going  outdoors or not exercising for fear of inhaling more pollutants. Certain people are at higher risk of being affected such as adults with heart conditions, adults and children with lung conditions and/or asthma. Itcan be difficult to predict when air pollutants increase but they can flocculate and people with asthma may notice that they require their medication. There is some evidence that asthma can be induced by living near busy junctions or roads with heavy traffic.

Reducing air pollution is already a common issues for discussions at local authority level. WHO talks about global reduction in carbon emissions, moving away from burning coal and fossils fuels, and shifting our transport system from hydrocarbons to electricity. The European Union passed the Ambient Air Directive in 2008 that set legally binding limits for all its EU members for concentrations in outdoor air of major particulate matter [PM10 and PM2.5] and nitrogen dioxide.

Apart from the direct health effects, these gases can combine to form an ozone of harmful gases that can then be transported great distances by weather systems. Within the UK, local authorities have statutory duties to monitor air quality in their areas. What’s new is that for the first time the effects of air pollution has become a priority among the public health issues we need to tackle in the 2010s. So what can be done by local health partnerships to minimize the impact of air quality on health?

Apart from regulatory interventions, community level and individual level interventions can help. Reducing the community’s carbon footprint is a good first step. Walking or cycling to work, car sharing, using and demanding better public transport are excellent initial steps to reduce our carbon emissions. Fewer cars on the road means less traffic and less fumes to breathe in. This is something where local councils have an important role to play, for example by working with schools to encourage parents to  reduce use of cars in the drop off and collection from schools by joining ‘walking buses’ or taking it in turns to drive them.

Working with local businesses to reduce their carbon footprint is important too. The biggest carbon footprint of the NHS is the travel its procurement takes – for example, transport of its medical supplies. Encouraging local production and purchasing will not only help boost the local economy but will help reduce time and distance of the productson the road, reducing emissions.

Other community initiatives include considering the effects of air pollution when looking at planning proposals for new buildings for example the positioning of new schools in relation to busy traffic and roads and the expected pollutant emissions from commercial buildings.

Catherine Heffernan is Principal Advisor for Early Years Commissioning, Immunisations and Vaccinations, NHS England

Room to breathe


Room to  breathe

It’s 60 years since the UK’s first Clean Air Act tackled pollution from coal. Today it’s traffic fumes that are polluting the air we breathe. As thousands die from respiratory illnesses each year, it’s time to be bold about air pollution, says clean air campaignerAnna Jones.

If I asked you to picture a perfect day outdoors, I would expect yours would unfold somewhere different to mine. We all have our favourite places – be it a back garden, city park, village green, coastal clifftop, moor or wood – but I think we could all agree that fresh air is a crucial part of a healthy day in the great outdoors. “Getting some fresh air”, “finding room to breathe” – these are things we not only crave, but need.

At the moment, none of us are getting enough. Out villages, towns and cities – basically anywhere with a busy road running through it – are choking with deadly traffic fumes. Thousands of people are suffering with respiratory illnesses, with our children and grandparents most at risk. In fact, children living close to busy roads are about 50% more at risk of suffering conditions like asthma.

Dr Love is a Georgian street artist, based in Tbilsi. He created this artwork on a street in Bristol for Upfest, using moss for the foliage. Britian’s abysmal air quality is fast becoming a public health crisis, and urgent action is required to ensure we can all breathe easily.

The pollutants we should be most concerned about are nitrogen oxides and sooty particulates, which are tiny enough to get deep into the lungs, enter the bloodstream, and even get into the brain. They can cause asthma, heart disease and cancer. Air pollution is causing around 40,000 early deaths in the UK every year, and costs the economy over £20bn per year in NHS and other related health costs. Shockingly, one person in every 20 who die each year has their life cut short by air pollution. It is the fumes from diesel vehicles that are causing the most harm.

This is a difficult issue – half of the vehicles in the UK run on diesel, and many of us chose diesel because we were told it was better for the environment. But a year on from the VW emissions cheating scandal, we now know 97% of diesel cars don’t meet legal pollution standards. Air pollution is fast becoming a public health disaster, and urgent action is required. We all have the right to breathe clean air,which is why we’re doing everything we can to ensure tackling air pollution is right at the top of the political agenda.

In the last issue of Connect, you read about our mission to get the new Mayor of London to commit to tackle air pollution. After Sadiq Khan was elected, we ran a clean air ad campaign on tubes and trains across London, encouraging Londoners to demand action. Hundreds of our London-based volunteers contacted Khan personally about the capital’s appalling air quality. It worked – the Mayor is now consulting on an ambitious plan that will put London at the forefront of the clean air revolution. Other cities, including Delhi and Paris, are also pioneering ambitious clean air policies. Where they lead, others will follow.

We’re now challenging policy makers nationwide to go futher. We’re campaigning for networks of clean air zones, where polluting vehicles are phased off our rods, alongside better public transport and infrastructure that empowers people to walk and cycle. We’re reaching out to schools in the most polluted areas of London, and collaborating with other organisations, including the British Lung Foundation, Royal College of Physicians ad the UK Health Alliance. We’re also lobbying the Government for stricter regulation of the car industry, which must be held to account for the damage it is doing to our health.

Positive action on air pollution will save thousands of lives every year, as well as reducing CO2 emissions. Investing in green technology like electric vehicles, and the infrastructure it needs, would also create thousands of jobs, and could significantly boost the UK economy

Ultimately, clean air isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity, and we’re determined to make sure everyone can breathe it.


Clean Air - trailblazers Clean Air - Act now


Further reading:

Greenpeace: Lethal and Illegal [IPPR, July 2016]

Greenpeace | Clean Air now!


Prime Minister: Clean Air now!

Car exhaust fumes, London.
Car exhaust fumes, London.

Air pollution in the UK is responsible for cutting short 40,000 lives every year. It’s now a public health crisis, where children, the elderly and the most vulnerable people in our society are most affected by dangerous and toxic air.

There isn’t a technological barrier stopping us from breathing cleaner air, we have the science and the tech know-how to put a stop to this crisis, what’s stopping us is lack of action from our politicians.

Theresa May government needs to act on this health crisis and take action to save thousands of lives every year.

Sign the Greenpeace petition to the PM

To: Prime Minister

“Air pollution is responsible for cutting short 40,000 lives in the UK every year. It’s time for this government to take robust and steadfast action to address this national health emergency. Create a bold action plan that cleans our air, reduces pollution and saves lives now”


SERA | We need a Clean Air Act for the 21st Century


Sign our Petition calling for a new Clean Air Act


Alongside A Breath of Fresh Air we have launched a UK Government and Parliament petition. The petition calls on the government to produce a Clean Air Act fit for the 21st Century, and help prevent the 40,000 plus premature UK deaths every year. To sign the petition click here.

Details of ‘A Clean Air Act for the 21st Century’ Petition 

Air pollution is silently and prematurely killing 40,000 to 50,000 UK citizens every year at an economic cost of nearly £54 billion. Sixty years on from the first Clean Air Act we need the same level of commitment to saving peoples lives today through a Clean Air Act for the 21st Century.

Over the coming months ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ SERA’s clean air campaign will be building support for an act, encouraging research, shaping policy changes and actions, working with a range of organisations and hosting discussions. This will help support a bold, robust and ambitious case for a Clean Air Act that is fit for the 21st Century. More than ever, following the referendum and the risk to EU protections we currently have, we need action. Add your voice to make this happen.

Sign the Petition

More information can be found in SERA’s special publication ‘A Breath of Fresh Air | A Clean Air Act for the 21st Century’.

FoE | Fighting air pollution in the North East – a clean air campaign

03 August 2016

Fighting air pollution in the North East – a clean air campaign

Angela Needham, a Friends of the Earth activist from Hull, shares her recent experiences of campaigning against air pollution with Neil Baird.

I read somewhere you don’t like going to London because of the pollution.

Yes, I have COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder]. And I have it, because of the same reason as 90% of people who have it, because I used to smoke. I fully recognise that I did it to myself!

I know when the air is polluted because I have COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). I don’t go to London if I can help it because it takes me a week to recover.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors that can aggravate it. If I go to London and walk around, I notice that my breathing deteriorates for about a week afterwards.

Can you tell me about the air pollution work you’ve been doing?

We were approached as Hull Friends of the Earth some months back asking if we would pilot some of their [Friends of the Earth] ideas around air pollution. We tried a survey [to find out people’s views on air pollution], and we have also put up tubes that test for air pollution around the city.

We did the survey at an event where most people there were broadly part of the green movement so it wasn’t exactly a cross section of the Hull population. We did it again in the city centre, so we would be talking to whoever happened to be passing by.

There wasn’t a lot of difference in what was said actually. We received a lot of engagement with the question which asked: “Who gets the most polluted air? The cyclist, the motor cyclist, the car driver, the passenger in car, on a bus or on foot.”

Most people said the cyclist. But in most circumstances, the answer is the car driver. And when we told people that, we got quite a lot of surprised reactions. Two people actually said: “Maybe I’ll drive less.” That doesn’t mean they will, but it does mean it’s something the public should be more educated about.

What about the air pollution in Hull?

There is only one place in Hull which is recognised as illegal, from an air pollution EU law point of view. And it is recognised as such by the city and is being worked on. But at the moment it’s still pretty bad.

I haven’t put an air pollution monitor up here [by the Humber] and looking around it seems like the local authority hasn’t got one here either, but the air must be fairly good.

The city has loads of air pollution monitoring devices all over the city and the results are all obtainable online.

Angela by the Humber. There are now air pollution monitoring devices across Hull. © Neil Baird
Where does Hull actually measure up with regards to the legality?

There are 40 cities on the list. We’re in the 40, but fairly low down. We’re not in the top 20, like Leeds is for instance. But obviously we need to get out of it.

When we talk to people in the city centre about air pollution, most of them said they thought the air was good in Hull, some of them thought it was unusually good in the city.

Interestingly, you talk about air pollution, and people don’t hear the word “air”. Their biggest concerns are always litter and dogs fouling. With air pollution, they can’t see it. They might smell it, and taste it after a while, but they don’t see it.

I grew up in Birmingham and we saw air pollution or “smog”. You couldn’t walk in it. I knew a lady who got lost walking between her front door and the shops. Then we had the Clean Air Act. And my goodness gracious me, it worked.

What can the city do?

They are encouraging bus transport. The buses are being replaced and moved towards lower emission buses. They can look at where cars are allowed to go and control which areas are used. On the city’s plan there are all sorts of things being considered: Car sharing, raising awareness in schools, etc.

We’ve been in touch with the local authority who are tremendously enthusiastic.

There is an 84-page document available online, which discusses in detail all the things that can theoretically be done, and their likely cost effectiveness. They seem to be very willing for us to be involved. But in the end we are in one of the 40 worst cities for those particulates, and that is from diesel.

I remember back in the 90s driving a diesel car because everybody was telling me “get away from petrol”, so I did. Now I’m told, “don’t drive a diesel car, because of the particulates. Drive an electric car…” I would love to if somebody gave me the money to buy one!

Trying to discourage diesel is something the local authority could do more about. Hull Friends of the Earth could try and raise awareness because it is mainly freight that is the big problem. How much can we influence that unless the government itself were to bring in further laws which forced the big business to change things?

What are your hopes?

I believe that we have to do everything we can, just because we have to do everything we can. Not out of any kind of nobility, but just that there is something there, so you deal with it.

We’re gradually picking our way around, making it a little bit better here and there. Maybe we can get the cities’ air where it should be.

Do you have a message to people to help them understand what they can do?

Have the courage to be who you want to be, and if that means sticking your head above the parapet, doing it differently, or people not understanding you, try not to let that be a problem.

Find like-minded people. Friends of the Earth may well help you find like-minded people. Their website will take you to your nearest local group and tell you what’s happening.

Get a FoE Clear Air Kit –



The latest batch of Clean Air Kits has been snapped up. but FoE will let you know as soon as more become available, if you register your interest.

Further Reading
GuardianEastbourne a surprise name among UK’s most polluted towns and cities [12 May 2016]

WHO Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database [update 2016]

Download WHO Ambient (outdoor) air pollution database, by country and city