Saffron Walden pollution checks don't go far enough, say experts

PUBLISHED: 09:10 06 September 2012

MORE needs to be done to measure pollution in Saffron Walden amid claims that the long-term effects to people living in the town are similar to passive smoking.

That is the view of a number of experts tasked with looking at environment and health issues on behalf of Uttlesford District Council.

Recently published figures showed levels of Nitrogen Dioxide, a toxic gas which causes significant inflammation of the airways, were at an all-time low last year – the first decline since the council began monitoring air quality in the town.

But chairman of the Uttlesford Health and Wellbeing Group, Professor Peter Fentem, told the Reporter it was smaller dust particles, known as PM10 and PM2.5, which had been identified as more harmful by the World Health Organisation.

In 2011 there was a 33 per cent increase in the average yearly reading of PM10 particles in Saffron Walden – a record high – but UDC does not currently monitor the smaller, and deadlier, PM2.5’s in the town, he said.

“There are issues people need to take account of – 2.5 particles could be damaging people’s cardiovascular systems and be a danger to people with heart problems,” said Prof Fentem. “A prestigious committee, which looks at the medical effects of air pollutants for the Department of Health, said these 2.5 particles are on a par with passive smoking. This is an important topic which is going to run and run for the next 20 years.”

The main cause of pollution in the town is traffic – and Prof Fentem added that it was important nothing was done development-wise which could exasperate the problem further in the future.

Paul Garland, a member of UDC’s environment working group, has also urged the authority to monitor the smaller 2.5 particles, but says his plea fell on deaf ears.

“I don’t think the issue of air quality is being taken as seriously as it should be, especially in regard to the expansion of housing in the area,” he said. “This is something which will inevitably have an impact on people’s health, as the World Health Organisation has made clear, but the council will not monitor the smaller particles because it is not mandated to do so.”

Geoff Smith, head of environmental services at UDC, confirmed it was not mandatory for the authority to monitor PM2.5 particles at present.

“The equipment is very expensive and there is no set target yet. It is something which is still being considered but at the moment it is not an air quality objective, although it may be in the future.”

Mr Smith added that levels of PM10 could be correlated to that of PM2.5, saying if one increased or decreased so would the other.

“Although there has been a slight increase in the PM10 readings, the level is still well below the 40 µg m-3 air quality objective target we have to meet. We have to come up with a new action plan by March next year, so we can begin to make a case for further monitoring then, and will have to see if we can get funding to support this.”

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