Air pollution today is a major environmental risk to health. It is invisible, can't be smelt or tasted but causes at least 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK. Unlike the smogs of the 1940/50s created by smoke from coal burning power stations and fires the current main culprits are the emissions of particulates (PM2.5) and nitrous oxides chiefly from the 38% highly polluting diesel engined motor vehicles on our roads today.
The emissions are linked to the burden of disease from strokes, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. The lower the levels of air pollution, the better will be the cardiovascular and respiratory health of the population and in particular for the most vulnerable in society; children and older people.
Under the Environment Act of 1995 local authorities are required to review air quality in their area and in places where air quality limits are exceeded, they have to designate Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and work towards certain air quality objectives. An air quality action plan, describing the pollution reduction measures, must then be put in place.
Bedford Borough issued AQMAs for Prebend Street (AQMA2) and High Street (AQMA3) in June 2005 but had to revoke both of them in November 2009 and issue a new one (AQMA5) for the whole of the town centre area due to the presence of high levels of nitrogen dioxide resulting from heavy levels of through traffic.
It has two continuous monitors* at two locations, High Street and Prebend Street, and 46 sites monitoring annual means. Over the last five years air quality has improved from a peak of 67% of values exceeding the national target of 40µg/m³ to 21% in 2015.
The High Street and Prebend Street continue to be worst areas for pollution although there are also current concerns along Ampthill Road with the increase of traffic from the Wixams and the new superstore.
It is therefore imperative that as much traffic as possible is removed from the central area including the High Street and Greyfriars not only for health reasons but to revitalise the economy of the town centre. The solution however is not just for Bedford Borough Council. It is the responsibility of all individuals to seriously consider changing their mode of transport for short journeys to cycling, walking or public transport.
An exercise in 2014 by the Healthy Air Campaign, King's College London and Camden Council used members of the public to track exposure to air pollution in London. The monitoring found that that travelling on foot or by bike exposed commuters to significantly fewer fumes than using a car or bus.
Other references: Causes of air pollution
Cycling UK (formerly CTC) Briefing Paper 1E (November 2016) on the topic contains a comprehensive list of references.
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