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expert reaction to study looking at air quality over past decades in the uk

A study published in Environmental Research Letters has found that policies to improve air quality in the UK over the past 40 years have led to significant reductions in pollution and associated mortality rates.


Dr Richard Pope, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, National Centre for Earth Observation, University of Leeds, said:

“The results of this study are important as it clearly shows a dramatic reduction in health risks from exposure to NO2 and PM2.5 due to long-term decreases in UK pollutant emissions.  Importantly though, the study also highlights the negative impacts from emissions reductions, with substantial increases in O3, a hazardous secondary pollutant.  Further action is required (e.g. policy attention to agricultural emissions and smaller scale sources), as shown by this novel study, to lower O3, NO2 and PM2.5 in-line with DEFRA’s 2020 and 2030 reduction targets.”


Prof William Collins, Professor of Meteorology, University of Reading, said:

“This study show that effective air quality policies have been able to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants (particularly sulphur dioxide and fine particles) in the UK since the 1970s with significant improvements in mortality rates, although they weren’t able to account for any misreporting (for instance of car emissions) which may make the conclusions slightly optimistic.

“While this is undoubtedly a success story, the authors caution that these past policies focussed on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ and that further improvements in mortality will be more challenging requiring reductions in pollutants that haven’t declined so much, such as ammonia from agriculture.  Ozone is the only pollutant that is shown to continue to increase in this study.  Ozone and the pollutants that react to form it last long enough to be blown across continents, highlighting that international cooperation will be needed to give people in the UK truly clean air to breathe.”


‘Modelling public health improvements as a result of air pollution control policies in the UK over four decades – 1970 to 2010’ by E Carnell et al. was published in Environmental Research Letters at 00:01 UK time on Wednesday 26 June 2019.


Declared interests

Prof William Collins: “No conflict of interest.”

None others received.


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