Air pollution impacting on wildlife, campaign group claims

Air pollution is having an impact on the health of UK birds and domestic pets as well as humans, according to the Campaign for Air Pollution Public Inquiry (CAPPI).

The Campaign, which has gained the support of 25 MPs and Peers (see airqualitynews.com story) and the Environmental Audit Committee, believes there has been “insufficient action” from the UK government on air quality and is calling for the UK’s 2007 Air Quality Strategy to be updated.

CAPPI claims air pollution is adversely affecting the health of birds and other wildlife as well as humans

CAPPI claims air pollution is adversely affecting the health of birds and other wildlife as well as humans

Chair of the Environment Agency, Lord Chris Smith, is also supporting the campaign. He commented: “Air pollution is now reaching really worrying levels in London and other major urban areas.  We urgently need to identify the scale of the problem, its causes, and what solutions we need to adopt. An Inquiry could provide real help in doing so.”

However, Dave Davies, who leads the Campaign, said that while the impacts of air pollution on human health has been widely reported, far less consideration at a national level has been given to the impact on wildlife and domestic cats and dogs.

Mr Davies said: “There are aspects of air quality that have not previously been widely reported. The failed air quality strategies are not just having a massive impact on human health, there is also the danger that wildlife is being put at risk.”

He said that air pollution can cause the depletion and contamination of the food chain for birds, while also directly adversely affecting birds’ lungs in urban areas.

Supporting the Campaign, toxicologist and particle researcher at the University of Ulster, Professor Vyvyan Howard, said that birds are “one particularly vulnerable group” with regards to air pollution.

Professor Howard explained that while humans and other mammals have wider alveolar lungs, birds have much narrower capillary lungs, which make them “sensitive to particle-induced lung problems”.

He said: “In birds the lung doesn’t expand but has air drawn through a dense network of capillaries that are only 4 to 7 microns across. This is very efficient under normal circumstances and saves a lot of weight compared to mammal lungs.

However, he added: “Very small particles cause inflammation. This in turn causes swelling of the lining of the airways. The smooth flow of air through the airways is very sensitive to the diameter of the airways. This is one reason why children, with their narrower airways are more susceptible to asthma than adults. It is not difficult to understand why birds are exquisitely sensitive to particle-induced lung problems.”

In addition, the Campaign claims air pollution is adversely impacting on the health of domestic pets – including dogs – citing a 2011 study by Colorado State University’s Professor of Epidemiology, John S Reif, which concluded that “the effects of environmental pollution on sentinel animals are relevant to human health and may lead to public health interventions and policy initiatives”.

CAPPI leader Mr Davies added: “It is important that urgent action is taken to improve air quality and reduce the harm to both humans and animals. The Campaign for Air Pollution Public Inquiry has been set up so that it can be established why the past and current failed air quality strategies have failed so that the same mistakes are not made going forward.”

Related Links:

Campaign for Air Pollution Public Inquiry