Chief medical officer calls for tougher air pollution standards

The government’s senior advisor on public health, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has called for tougher standards on air pollution, in a report published today (2 March).

Professor Davies, the government’s chief medical officer, has also expressed concern at ‘how little we know’ about health impacts of common pollutants present in the environment, in her annual report for 2017.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, the government’s chief medical officer

She added that the country does not have adequate systems in place to ‘monitor, understand and act’ on data about the health impacts of air, noise, water and soil pollution.

Every year the chief medical officer is required to produce a report on the state of the public’s health – which may call on policy makers to implement measures that will improve the health on the nation.

Within her 2017 report, Professor Davies has identified pollution as a major threat to public health presenting health challenges in areas including cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

However, she has claimed that further investigation of the longer-term impacts of ‘lower-level’ pollution exposure is needed. She added that addressing pollution should be considered ‘disease prevention’ due to the likely benefit this has on public health.

Evidence

Writing in her introduction to the report, she stated: “Overall, I have been struck by the lack of evidence we have in this field. This is not for want of trying on behalf of academics and practitioners. At the moment we do not have the systems in place to effectively monitor, understand, and act on data about the health impacts of pollution.

“The clarion call from this report is therefore to create these systems so that we can determine effective actions. As I will set out, this will require a conceptual shift: we must start to address pollution as disease prevention.

“And we must consider the impact on human health of all of the different singular pollutants alone AND in combination with others, over short AND over long-term periods.”

Other recommendations contained within the report include evaluation of measures set in motion by the Greater London Authority to address air pollution near schools in the capital, as well as broadening the scope of local authority environment strategies to include NOx.

She has also called for Public Health England to support local authorities by issuing up to date evidence on the health impacts of pollution.

“I recommend that future UK government national standards for air pollutants, developed within the next five years, should be increasingly stringent and driven by an ambition to protect human health,” she added.

The report also recommends that the Department for Transport agree with local authorities ‘standardised mechanisms and protocols for surveillance and road charging’ integrating health data and implemented consistently across England.

Indoor

Additional focus on indoor air pollution, as well as investigation of the availability and quality of low cost indoor air pollution monitors is also needed “in order to support the public’s use of home air quality monitoring equipment,” she concluded.

Professor Davies added: “My reasons for focusing here are twofold. Firstly, if we are to get industries to act on the health impacts of the pollution they produce, much of which will be as a result of products and processes which we value, then it seems reasonable that health professionals and policy makers should lead the way and demonstrate all the great progress some have made.”

Related Links
Chief Medical Officer annual report 2017: health impacts of all pollution – what do we know?