|Parents from Canonbury School with Jenny Jones campaigning for clean air|
Yesterday I attended a Camden and Islington Air Quality Summit at Camden Town Hall. The Council Chamber was packed to hear what health, transport and air quality experts had to say. It was good to see Councillor West Leader of Islington Council, who has recently been persuaded of the serious impacts of transport on the health of residents but a pity she was unable to stay for all the presentations as there is much for Islington Council to do.
We learnt that London air is polluted with emissions from vehicle exhausts and from minute particles from tyre and brake disk wear. On average, the lives of Londoners are being shortened by 11.5 years because of air pollution, streets like the Euston Road are breaking European and World Health Organisation limits many times over and more than 4,000 people are dying in the capital each year because of poor air quality.
Worryingly, children are the worst affected. They breath in twice as much pollution as adults because their mouths are closer to the level of vehicle exhaust pipes where concentrations of pollutants are highest. Children also suck in more polluted air than adults because their energy levels are higher, their lungs are bigger in relation to their bodies than adults and their lungs are not fully developed. Professor Frank Kelly, Director of the Environmental Research Group at Kings College, was stark in his description of a generation of children living near busy roads who will reach adulthood without ever developing full lung function. This is disproportionately the case for children of lower income and ethnic minority families.
Professor Kelly was very clear that there is a solution. "We simply have to remove the source of the pollution" and went on "the more we dilly-dally on this, the more people will suffer respiratory problems".
The presentation from Isabel Dedring, Deputy Mayor for Transport, made clear that Boris and Transport for London are "dilly dallying". Having just seen images of diesel particulates embedded in a child's lung, the Mayor's programme of sticking pollution to the ground near the air pollution monitors on Euston Road appeared utterly inadequate. The lack of ambition in tackling this serious health emergency is shocking and tragic in equal measure and was brilliantly illustrated by the TfL projections that even by 2050 we will not be breathing clean air. As Professor Kelly made clear, there is a solution. We just need "to remove the source of the pollution" and that must mean fewer and cleaner cars on our roads.
Why are we so sanguine about this serious health risk? Many of us know children with asthma and others suffering lung or cardio vascular diseases and yet we continue to allow pollution creating vehicles to drive unimpeded through built up areas where many people will breath in the poisonous air. The scale of damage to health from air pollution puts the dangers of alcohol, smoking, drugs and road traffic collisions in the shade. There seems to be a collective lack of outrage and a paucity of imagination: We just need "to remove the source of the pollution". London could be so much better if only we dared to imagine a city with fewer vehicles, cleaner air and a more walkable and cycle-able, people-friendly street environment.