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Air pollution in Wales a “public health crisis”

By Lucy McDaid

Air pollution in Wales is amongst the worst in the UK, and has been deemed a “public health crisis” by Public Health Wales.

According to the organization, air pollution is the cause of around 2,000 deaths a year in the country – a statistic equivalent to roughly five deaths a day.

A major reason given for the crisis is diesel engines. Road tax for diesel cars was reduced in 2001 and increased air pollution levels have been recorded ever since.

These engines cause harmful levels of nitrogen dioxide to accumulate in the air, and the Welsh health body have claimed that this is a more serious issue than both obesity and alcohol consumption.

Huw Brunt, a Consultant in Environmental Public Health Protection for Public Health Wales, has noted that air pollution is secondary to smoking on the list of public health priorities, but claims that “obesity, inactivity and alcohol, they actually come behind air pollution.”

Brunt highlights its impact on both short and long-term health, suggesting that the long term consequences are more serious, affecting the heart, lungs and possibly even causing cancer.

In January of this year, the Welsh government’s environmental department also revealed that South Wales was experiencing increased levels of air pollution as a consequence of ‘cold, still weather’.

According to the department, it had reached seven out of ten on the scale because settled weather conditions were failing to move the pollution. They similarly identified diesel engines as the main instigators.

Cardiff, was not however the worst affected area in the country, with Hafodyrynys Road in Crumlin, Caerphilly, supposedly being the most polluted street in the UK outside of London. The road has breached EU pollution limits 57 times in 2017 alone.

Roads with high levels of air pollution have to be identified as Air Quality Management Areas, and there are currently 41 of these in Wales, whilst 894 locations are monitored for nitrogen dioxide levels.

The people allegedly most at risk from this air pollution crisis are children, elderly people and anyone with existing lung respiratory problems such as asthma.

Speaking to the BBC, Huw Morgan, chairman of the Welsh Pollution Expert Panel, claimed it might be time for parts of Wales to start implementing restrictions on diesel vehicles in some “very specific areas” where air pollution is high.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, last week referred to Wales’ air pollution as a “crisis”, and urged First Minister Carwyn Jones to hold a multi-agency summit to look into solving the problem

The Welsh Government have since responded by consulting with local councils to look into how they are currently dealing with the issue, and have sought to reassure the Welsh population that they are dedicated to the improvement of air quality and aim to reduce emissions.

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