ON-LINE DEBATE

4 March 1998

The British Lung Foundation


COUNTING THE COST OF AIR POLLUTION

The overall bill from road transport, including the cost of air pollution, congestion, accidents, road damage and global warming, is between 45.9 and 52.9 billion. Road users only pay a third of these costs.

The suffering, illness and premature death attributed to road traffic-related air pollution is valued at over 11 billion a year according to our report, Transport and Pollution - the Health Costs , released on Monday 9 February 1998.

The British Lung Foundation study, funded by British Gas plc, and undertaken by Professor David Pearce at the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment , calculated the health costs of pollution by multiplying the number pollution-related deaths and illnesses that occur every year by the price people are willing to pay to avoid the risks of these happening.

The report identifies the most dangerous air pollutant - PM10 - the microscopic particles mainly emitted by diesel engines. Particulate air pollution is a cause of premature death and contributes to a wide range of lung problems including coughs, colds, phlegm, sinusitis, shortness of breath, chronic wheezing, chest pain, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

An air pollution episode in London (December 1991) is highlighted in the report as evidence of the threat of vehicle-related air pollution. Deaths increased by 10% over the four day period of the smog.

A more strategic transport and health policy is needed. Our recommendations include:

 

  • further use of financial measures to discourage unnecessary car-use
  • promotion and investment in public transport
  • promotion of eco-friendly fuels by fiscal measures
  • targeted information on air pollution to be given to the public in advance of poor air quality episodes
  • more research into the health effects of pollution to inform further policy changes

 

According to Dr Michael Green, President of the British Lung Foundation, ‘Air pollution is a public health hazard and an economic problem for the nation. Poor air quality may be causing long and short-term health effects to millions of people in this country.

‘It makes economic and health sense to clean up the air in our cities as an urgent priority. This may be done through an integrated transport policy which provides a better balance between public and private transport.

'We must also do more to encourage the use of cleaner fuels as part of the solution package to achieve cleaner air.

'Government and individuals must work together to end our love affair with the motor car and to provide a transport system which is economically and environmentally sustainable. ‘

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