Air pollution is a ‘public health crisis’ in Wales and needs to be tackled urgently…
Air pollution is a ‘public health crisis’ and needs to be tackled urgently according to Public Health Wales who say air pollution is a priority second only to smoking and is more of a concern than obesity or alcohol consumption.
Figures from Public Health Wales show that air pollution causes the equivalent of 2,000 deaths in Wales every year, which amounts to six per cent of all deaths.
Huw Brunt, from Public Health Wales, tells BBC Wales’ Week In Week Out programme:
“We all know smoking is probably the number one public health priority, air pollution probably comes second to that. If you talk about obesity, inactivity and alcohol, they actually come behind air pollution.”
The programme also shows the reality of life on the UK’s most polluted street outside London; Hafodyrynys Road in Crumlin. The EU dictates that there is a certain level of air pollution which can be hit 18 times before breaching legal limits. Hafodyrynys Road has exceeded that level 57 times already this year.
More than half of homeowners with houses on the worst-affected side of the street have called on the Council to purchase and demolish their homes because they say traffic is so bad.
Pensioners Neil and Dawn Howells live on the road. Mr Howells told Week In Week Out:
We’ve lived here for nearly 40 years and the traffic every year you can see it getting worse. It’s just beyond a joke. I want to get away from here but how can I? I can’t get another mortgage at my age. I wished they’d flatten it and give us somewhere else to go.
Mrs. Howells, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, added:
When I go out the front all the fumes and everything, it’s harder to breathe. It’s no quality of life when you’re struggling with your breath to get ready and go out. Sometimes we feel like prisoners here, we can’t get out.
Air pollution is largely being caused by a big increase in the number of diesel engines on UK roads after tax was reduced for diesel cars in 2001.
Local authorities have a duty to measure pollution levels on roads where people spend time near heavy traffic.
If a road has high levels, councils must declare it as an Air Quality Management Area. They then have a duty to monitor and compile action plans. There are 41 of these areas across Wales.
Huw Brunt tells tonight’s Week In Week Out the health impact of air pollution is varied.
In the short term, it’s the eyes, nose and throat irritation primarily. In the long term the consequences are more serious – on the heart, lungs and there’s an increased risk of cancer and other symptoms and conditions as well.
The people who are most vulnerable to the effects are the vulnerable groups – children and elderly people with pre-existing chronic illnesses.
The Welsh Government said it’s firmly committed to reducing emissions and improving air quality across Wales.
It added that it’s in the process of considering responses to a recent consultation on reducing pollution and that the Government’s response would be published soon.
Week In, Week Out: The Invisible Killer on our Streets on Tuesday, March 7, BBC One Wales, 10.40pm.
Also available on BBC iPlayer.