Clean Air Zone: how dangerous is dirty air? Sheffield public health director explains
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It contributes to illnesses including heart disease, stroke, dementia and lung cancer and can harm brain and lung development in children.
Mr Fell said: “Not a week goes by where you don’t read another scientific study somewhere that underscores quite how dangerous particulates and nitrogen dioxide are.”
He added: “The air pollution in Sheffield is above the legal limit, it’s not always above the legal limit but there are plenty of times in the year it is.
“There are plenty of people who have developed lung cancer who have never smoked a cigarette in their lives.”
He said the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) – which starts charging the most polluting vehicles to drive in the city centre and ring road today – should help save lives.
“It’s very difficult to measure the impact of preventative schemes like this but looking at the science available to us there is zero doubt the more we push down on nitrogen dioxide and particulates – the two most dangerous pollutants, and the Clean Air Zone is directly designed to address those – the more we are going to have less people having strokes and admitted to hospital because of their asthma and less people dying because of dirty air.”
He said the CAZ was part of a wider effort to tackle dirty air in the city which also includes retrofitting buses and cracking down on idling.
“We know we need to push further and faster but the Clean Air Zone will get us from where we are now, which is illegal air – your children are breathing illegal air – to lower levels of air pollution,” he said. “That in itself will help but there is obviously a lot more we can do in the long term to continue to accelerate the downward trend.”
What you can do to reduce your exposure to harmful air
Mr Fell urged people to drive less and cycle, walk or use public transport instead.
“An individual doing that isn’t going to make that much difference but if 600,000 individuals all did that then that makes a difference,” he said. “Clearly we need to make sure the bus service works and functions. But somewhere in the order of half to two thirds of all car trips are less than two or three hundred metres and almost all of us can walk or cycle that distance.”
A range of research shows those inside vehicles are more exposed to air pollution than those cycling or walking the same urban route.
Mr Fell said: “Being in a car, you are kind of in a hermetically sealed box. The way in which the airflow works in cars is it sucks all the exhaust fumes from the car in front of you and that gets into the car and goes nowhere. That is probably the worst of all worlds. Cycling or walking is the safest of all worlds.”
For all the details on the Clean Air Zone, visit the council’s website here: https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/campaigns/clean-air-zone-sheffield#Charges