It is with dismay that I read Sheikh Abid Gulzar’s comments in his letter to the Herald last week, in which he demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of the recent WHO report on air pollution in Eastbourne, questioning its authenticity without any evidence at all.
The UK has a public health emergency, with 40,000 deaths a year attributable to air pollution, making it the biggest cause of premature death after smoking, so it’s impossible for Eastbourne to be an oasis of perfectly clean air.
The most important aspect of the WHO report is not its data (which is derived from official air quality monitoring stations), but the pollution limits applied to that data. Eastbourne’s air pollution is well under the legal EU limits, which makes it less bad than many other places in the UK (which, as a whole, is well above the EU limits). However, Eastbourne’s air is above the WHO limits, which are much stricter than the EU limits because they are based on the most recent research on the toxic effects of particulate pollution, especially that produced in abundance by diesel traffic, now a much larger proportion of local road traffic than in the past. The EU accepts the validity of that research but has not yet embodied it in EU pollution limits.
Another vital point is that there’s no safe limit for particulate pollution, which was the focus of the WHO report. Whatever the level of such pollution, there is a proportionate level of illness and premature deaths caused by that pollution. Public Health England published a report in 2014 which showed that 61 people a year in Eastbourne die prematurely due to particulate air pollution, which is just one amongst many forms of air pollution.
There are many practical proposals that can be implemented locally to reduce air pollution, especially from local diesel traffic. We in Eastbourne Friends of the Earth have already held constructive talks with Eastbourne Borough Council and have agreed to work in partnership with the council to help raise awareness about air pollution issues and to help develop ways of steadily reducing that pollution.
We need an evidence-based approach to dealing with air pollution, not histrionic, emotive comments that give false reassurances to people. Just because we live in a sunny place with nice sea breezes and we can’t see, smell, or taste air pollution most of the time doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem that needs dealing with.
Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth.
Rattle Road, Westham
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