Air quality

Air pollution used to be a more visible problem in the UK due to extensive domestic and industrial combustion of fossil fuels emitting large amounts of smoke and oxides of sulphur. Today, the air we breathe is visibly cleaner thanks to legislation and the work of Environmental Health Professionals (EHPs).

Major, but much less visible, problems still persists and EHPs continue to work on the front line to improve air quality. Under section 82 of the Environment Act 1995, they are required to carry out regular reviews and assessments of air quality in their area against standards set out in their local air quality management (LAQM) systems.

EHPs regulate certain types of industrial processes that cause air pollution, provide advice to businesses and others on how to control air pollution, and take action if emissions limits and operating conditions are breached. They also work in partnership with urban planners and transport planning professionals to ensure new development takes account of air quality.

Health impact

Poor outdoor air quality results in around 40,000 premature deaths annually in the UK. There is evidence of the contribution of poor air quality to illnesses such as cancer, stroke, asthma and heart disease and there are also strong associations with obesity, dementia and diabetes.

The effects are especially evident in vulnerable people and in the UK, air pollution costs businesses and health care services in excess of £20 billion annually.

Time for a change

Good air quality is a basic requirement and determinant of health. In the UK, over 800 Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) continue in place where pollutant levels exceed legislative standards. With some of these standards set at twice the World Health Organisation acceptable levels it is clear that air quality is a significant public health issue.

CIEH is conducting a campaign to engage with key decision-makers, who have the authority to make long-lasting and positive change in this area, and we highlight the important work of EHPs in protecting air quality in the UK.

As part of this campaign, CIEH has:

  • Published an updated Policy Statement on Air Quality 
  • Established an Air Quality Advisory Panel, made up of EHPs representing different industries, sectors and parts of the country
  • Joined the Healthy Air Campaign collation calling for a new Clean Air Act
  • Assisted the Chief Medical Officer to write her annual report for 2017 which will be focussed on pollution
  • Become a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution 
  • Submitted evidence to the Four Commons Select Committees Joint Inquiry on Improving Air Quality

Further information

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