Air pollution, the invisible killer

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Story by Graham Jones

Air pollution in Sheffield is responsible for up to 800 deaths each year. The elderly, unborn, young and poor are all at special risk.

Poor air quality is linked to cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, respiratory diseases, dementia and neurological degeneration, reduced fertility and diabetes.

Sheffield Council have recently initiated an Airaware campaign to highlight the danger of traffic fumes, including the fact that traffic fumes are worse inside cars than they are on the streets. Schoolchildren in Burngreave have been encouraged to walk and cycle more. However, it is not fair to pass the buck onto children. Edubase/Ofsted have identified Owler Brook Primary, Fir Vale, Oasis Academy (Fir Vale) and Abbeyfield primary schools as experiencing dangerous nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels.

The council has failed to meet the targets from its own 2012 action plan. In Burngreave air quality monitoring has revealed that the European legal limit of nitrogen dioxide is regularly exceeded. Readings taken for Barnsley Road have shown the levels hitting almost twice the legally safe levels.

Road transport is the most significant contributor to Sheffield’s NO2 emissions and around a 30% NO2 reduction is needed. A low emission zone limiting the use of diesel vehicles would be a partial solution. Improved local transport might also encourage people not to take the car. Bus and train fares have soared over recent decades while the cost of driving has fallen.

Road improvements are being paid for by the public transport budget even though they are of more benefit to car drivers. Five years ago the blocking of Carlisle Street due to Tesco being built destroyed a very useful and fast traffic route through non-residential areas. Mature trees help remove polluting ‘particulate matter’ from traffic fumes and the current removal of vast numbers of such trees will lead to an increase of particulate matter in the air.

Fifty years ago killer smogs were ended by the introduction of The Clean Air Act. Similar powerful legislation is essential now to stop this deadly disaster.

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