The trouble with air pollution is that we’re unaware of it. Of course, we can see smoke coming from a badly tuned engine and smell exhaust fumes if we’re close to standing traffic, but, on the whole, we don’t notice it’s there.
Which doesn’t mean that it isn’t there, and doesn’t mean that it’s not harming us and the environment.
Here in St Albans, Government estimates put premature deaths caused by air pollution at 100 every year, and Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee said that the cost to the NHS could be a yearly cost of £53.58 billion. Air pollution doesn’t just affect our lungs, it causes damage throughout the body.
And those affected most are the most vulnerable: the very old and the very young, those who are already ill and those who are economically least well off.
St Albans Friends of the Earth, St Albans Green Party and St Albans District Council have all monitored air quality around the District and found levels of pollution indicating that EU legal limits have been exceeded. That’s not safe limits – no safe limit has been found.
So air pollution is a big problem.
St Albans Friends of the Earth ran a petition asking St Albans District Council to take action to clean up the air around St Albans, and after presenting the petition to the council back in February, we’ll be making suggestions to the Community, Environment and Sport Scrutiny Committee about action that would help.
We have also worked with the Council on St Albans Idling Action, aimed at encouraging drivers to switch off their cars when stationary as leaving the car running is particularly polluting and is often in levels where air quality is already poor.
There’s so much that we can all do to help. The majority of air pollution around St Albans comes from vehicle exhausts, so leaving your car behind whenever possible will obviously help.
- Share lifts with other people – the more people in the car the fewer cars there are on the road
- Get your bike fixed and make sure you have a lock, helmet and lights easily to hand.
- Try walking short journeys and see how long they take. You might be surprised how quickly you arrive, particularly when you don’t need time to find a parking space.
- If you take a taxi, ask for an electric taxi. There are a few around St Albans and with customer interest there will be many more.
- Plant trees and shrubs, especially in your front garden. They’re great at capturing pollution and can make a big difference to air quality inside your house.
- If you speak to candidates in the forthcoming local elections, ask them what their plans to reduce air pollution are. Unless we tell them that this issue matters to us they have no incentive to act.
- Come along to the workshop that St Albans Friends of the Earth is running at the Know How Festival on 29th April at the close of Sustainable St Albans Week and find out how you can be a Clean Air Champion. We’ll be looking at the best way to approach idling drivers and give you materials to help spread the word about air quality.