A BBC weather presenter said she “couldn’t believe” the recent air pollution episode across the UK last month did not make bigger headlines, adding that she herself finds it difficult to get the issue featured on television.
Meteorologist Clare Nasir, who presents on both television and radio – and is also an ambassador for the Healthy Air Campaign – told an air quality conference in Sheffield last week (March 25) that it was difficult to get air pollution information included in weather forecasts as meteorologists “are not air pollution experts”.
Mrs Nasir has presented the weather for the likes of GMTV and BBC Look North, but she said that regarding air pollution episodes “I have to be very careful what I say because obviously there is a policy line on it”.
The presenter also told the audience that, despite her own efforts to get the story feature on TV news, the recent high levels of particulate matter across the UK in March was eclipsed by other stories.
She said: “I tried to get the story on air for a long time, but it was the day of the eclipse so there was not much more to talk about. Now, there were other issues to talk about, but I couldn’t believe that something that is affecting people’s health wasn’t making the news.
Mrs Nasir, who said her daughter had struggled with asthma before she moved away from London, added: “It is very hard to get a story like air pollution to air. That is my experience on this and has been for a while.”
Her comments were made during the Clearer Future Conference: Air Quality in 2015, which took place in Sheffield last week (March 25). The annual event is organised by Care4Air, the South Yorkshire Clean Air Campaign, which is a partnership of Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley councils.
Earlier, the event had kicked-off with Sheffield council’s executive director of place, Simon Green, who told the audience that air quality “creates economic growth and it creates welfare”, adding that “it should not come at any cost”.
“Air quality is a ‘now’ issue, particularly in certain parts of this city. Technology, place-making and planning all help,” Mr Green said. “Air pollution does need to be part of a holistic approach to development – it should be embedded in everything that we do. That is why this conference is important as it raises the profile of the issue across the whole country.”
Health impact studies
Also speaking at the conference, King’s College London’s Dr Ian Mudway explained that the problem of air pollution throughout the world would was becoming more pronounced with population growth in urban areas where pollution is greater, meaning more people breathing in a “cocktail of toxic chemicals”.
He said: “When people tell you things are getting better, let’s think about what the world is becoming now. For the first time, in 2014, 54% of the world’s population now live in urban areas – more than in the countryside. As the cities become denser and denser we are going to have problems – we are going to get transport infrastructure to support this population.”
Dr Mudway gave an overview of mounting recent evidence of the various health impacts of air pollution, which has been linked to lung problems, cardiovascular problems, strokes, anxiety, diabetes
In particular, Dr Mudway highlighted a recent study from only weeks ago in the New England Journal of Medicine looking at the association between air pollution and lung development in children.
He described the study as “probably the most arresting data I have seen in years” as it showed that lung development in children improved as their surrounding air quality improved, adding that “this was not on anybody’s radar two years’ ago”.
But he said air pollution needed tackling directly, rather than just advising on how to reduce exposure: “The government needs to go beyond that I think because otherwise they are pushing the problem on to the public.”
He also argued that the “little willingness to face-off against the transport lobby” was part of the problem.
And, Dr Mudway issued a warning regarding the EU’s air pollution limits, which the UK is failing to meet for nitrogen dioxide: “These are not magic thresholds which when you fall beneath them you can be protected against the problem. They are designed to mitigate against the worst health problems.
Hydrogen energy firm ITM Power was recently awarded £2.89 million government funding to build two new hydrogen refuelling stations in London, as well as for the upgrade of four existing ITM Power refuelling stations (see airqualitynews.com story).
And, providing an overview of the firm’s work developing hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in South Yorkshire at the event, ITM Power’s Charles Purkiss, explained that hydrogen fuelled cars produce zero emissions and could be part of the solution to reducing urban air pollution.
He said: “I want to impress just how important it is to improve air quality and that needs to happen for fossil fuels from the ground up.”