From: Andrew Durling,
Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth
We are greatly surprised and disappointed that Eastbourne Borough Council has publicly queried the findings of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) as regards the levels of particulate air pollution in Eastbourne.
In its statement, reported by your paper on 31st October, the council claimed that the levels of such pollution were below EU legal limits and therefore “great news for the people visiting, living and working in Eastbourne”. If this was an attempt at reassuring people, it fails because the EU legal limits are a lot higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines that the RCP report was based upon. These guidelines are based solely on the growing body of health research that shows just how damaging airborne particulates – especially from diesel vehicles – are to human health, especially to young children, those with circulatory or respiratory problems, and even car drivers (research shows the pollution inside cars is often much higher than outside). Indeed, the RCP report states that “a recent US study of over 60 million people has shown that there is no safe level of air pollution. This makes it even more important that the UK aims to drive down ambient levels of air pollutants as low as possible, and certainly to WHO recommended levels”.
What is disturbing is that the council disputes the validity of the air quality data that the RCP drew upon in its report, which is ironic given that the data is from official, Government-approved air monitors, including the DEFRA monitor at Willingdon Trees, a monitor that the council has never questioned the integrity of. The council analyses the data solely in terms of compliance or otherwise with the EU legal limits whereas the RCP analyses the same data in terms of the stricter WHO guidelines. The EU limits – although they do take some health research into account – are essentially a political compromise between the 28 member states (including the UK).
We suggest that it would be much more constructive of the council to avoid a confrontational approach to the RCP report and stop querying the air quality data the RCP uses. Such an approach just confuses people and undermines air quality research in general. Instead, the council should engage in an honest, open debate about the true nature of air pollution in Eastbourne, as well as engaging with local community groups about practical ways of improving air quality, such as those described in detail in the RCP’s very comprehensive and thorough report, which deserves a close reading. Dirty air is now the biggest single environmental cause of ill-health and premature death in the UK. Even Parliament recognises air pollution in this country as a public health emergency. So dealing with it is a priority, especially as maximising public health is now extremely important as a way of minimising the growing pressures upon NHS hospital services due to the austerity cuts imposed upon them.
We in Eastbourne Friends of the Earth are willing to continue our dialogue with the council to discuss ways of reducing local air pollution, and we will continue to support Friends of the Earth’s current campaign for Clean Air Everywhere. We are also working with Clean Air Eastbourne to help create a hyper-local air quality monitoring network throughout the town that will empower local people with the data they need to assess for themselves the air quality in their neighbourhoods. We hope such citizen science data will contribute to a more nuanced and evidence-based discussion on proposals to deliver cleaner air in Eastbourne, thereby making the town a truly healthy place and worthy of being a ‘Gateway to the South Downs’. Indeed, the cleaner Eastbourne’s air becomes, the more Eastbourne’s reputation as a place to visit, live and work in will improve.