Particulate matter targets set to come into law next year

The UK government has confirmed a consultation on targets for particulates emitted from items including vehicle tyres and brakes will open early in 2022.

PM2.5 is fine particulates, less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, that can enter the air from tyre and brake wear. With such a small diameter, the emissions can bypass human noses and throats and penetrate deep into the lungs, causing a number of health conditions. 

In December last year, a coroner reopened the inquest into the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah. The original inquest in 2013 listed cause of death as asthma, however the new report cites the impact of PM2.5 as a contributing factor in Ella’s death, and called on government departments, including the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), to respond.

Consultation coming

In its response, the government said that immediate action will be taken to increase public awareness about air pollution. An additional £6 million will be added to the annual funding pot for local authorities as part of the Air Quality Grant scheme. This funding sits alongside the £880 million that has already been pledged for local authorities to develop and implement local air quality plans, including Clean Air Zones.

When it comes to PM2.5, a consultation on new legal targets will launch early next year, with the aim of setting new goals in legislation by October 2022. The Government has used the World Health Organisation guidelines on PM2.5 to inform its ambitions in shaping these targets. 

Further to this, the new Office for Health Promotion will consider as a priority how public health benefits can be achieved through reductions in population exposure to the small particulates, taking into account the particular circumstances experienced in London and the South East.

The government is developing a more sophisticated population exposure reduction target. This aims to drive reductions not just in pollution “hotspots”, but in all areas. In setting these new targets, there will also be a commitment to significantly increase the monitoring network to capture more detailed air quality information across the country.

The establishing of a particulates target could have an impact on the independent aftermarket. There is likely to be a tightening on tyre quality and the materials used in brake pads, in order to reduce the emissions of PM2.5 from general wear. As the automotive industry deals with emissions from exhausts, this is the next area of focus. 

“Ella’s death was a tragedy and I would like to pay tribute to her family and friends who have campaigned so tirelessly on this issue, and continue to do so,” said environment secretary George Eustice.

“Today’s response is part of a much wider cross-Government effort to drive forward tangible and long-lasting changes to improve the air we breathe, as well as doing more to inform the public about the risks.

“Air pollution levels have reduced significantly since 2010, with emissions of fine particulate matter falling by 11%, while emissions of nitrogen oxides are at their lowest level since records began. We know that there is more to do which is why we are setting new legally-binding targets on particulate matter pollution and building on our Clean Air Strategy to accelerate action to clean up our air.”

Not enough

However, the British Safety Council believes the government response does not go far enough. 

According to the body, the response fails to set out concrete actions to both reduce harmful levels of ambient air pollution and limit exposure to toxic air.  “Once again, the government is planning a consultation on a legal limit for PM2.5 but not until next year. British Safety Council finds this unbelievable when the government’s own Environment Bill – the purpose of which is to set a legal limit for PM2.5 – is currently being considered in Parliament,” it said. 

“Thus, the delay until late next year for the setting of a legal limit lacks credibility, when the reality is that air pollution is the UK’s largest environmental health risk, greater than obesity and smoking, which causes 40,000 deaths a year and costs the economy a staggering £30 billion annually.”

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