Cars should be banned from idling near schools and congestionchargesimposed across the UK as part of measures recommended by the government public health agency.
In a report on Monday, Public Health England (PHE) said up to 36,000 people were dying each year from human-made air pollution.
It also pointed to emerging evidence of air pollution causing dementia, low birth weight and diabetes.
In a 263-page review of the options for improving air quality [pdf] the report calls for on councils to introduce no-idling zones outside schools and hospitals; the imposition of more congestion charges and low emission zones; and the development of a vehicle-charging infrastructure to promote a “step-change” in the uptake of electric cars.
The review favours measures that improve the air quality for as many people as possible, such as the wide implementation of low emission zones, rather than a focus on local pollution hotspots.
It also called for action against the sources of air pollution such as highly polluting vehicles and wood-burning stoves.
Prof Paul Cosford, the director for health protection and medical director of PHE, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m a doctor, I see a figure of 35,000 to 40,000 people each year dying as a result of the harm that is caused by air pollution.”
Calling for more urgency, he said: “If we were having a conversation about 30,000 people dying each year because of a polluted water supply, I think we would have a very different conversation. It would be about: ‘what do we need to do now and how quickly can we do it?’”
Cosford added: “Technologies are available, the things that we need to do we know about, so this is a matter of how we take this issue as seriously as we need to, and how we move the technologies and the planning and all of that into reality so we actually deal with this problem for us and for future generations.”
The review stops short of suggesting banning cars from the school run. Asked about the idea, Cosford said: “I do think that if we consider this to be an issue of future generations, for our children, let’s have a generation of children brought up free from the scourge and the harms of air pollution. And that does then take you to ‘what can we do about making sure schools are at least as clean as possible?’
“We should stop idling outside schools, we should make sure children can walk or cycle to school, and we should make sure that schools work with their parents about how they can do their best for this.”
We made a choice…
… and we want to tell you about it. Our journalism now reaches record numbers around the world and more than a million people have supported our reporting. We continue to face financial challenges but, unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall. We want our journalism to remain accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford.
This is The Guardian’s model for open, independent journalism: free for those who can’t afford it, supported by those who can. Readers’ support powers our work, safeguarding our essential editorial independence. This means the responsibility of protecting independent journalism is shared, enabling us all to feel empowered to bring about real change in the world. Your support gives Guardian journalists the time, space and freedom to report with tenacity and rigour, to shed light where others won’t. It emboldens us to challenge authority and question the status quo. And by keeping all of our journalism free and open to all, we can foster inclusivity, diversity, make space for debate, inspire conversation – so more people have access to accurate information with integrity at its heart.
Guardian journalism is rooted in facts with a progressive perspective on the world. We are editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one steers our opinion. At a time when there are so few sources of information you can really trust, this is vital as it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. Your support means we can keep investigating and exploring the critical issues of our time.
Our model allows people to support us in a way that works for them. Every time a reader like you makes a contribution to The Guardian, no matter how big or small, it goes directly into funding our journalism. But we need to build on this support for the years ahead.