By Buffy Beck
Annually, an estimated 9 million people die from pollution with air pollution being the main culprit. However Prof Philip Landrigan, at the Ichan School of Medicine in the US, says that “The current figure of nine million is almost certainly an underestimate, probably by several million”.
Mostly invisible, air pollution is seriously damaging to our health. Poor quality air increases the chances of someone developing respiratory illness such as asthma and stunted lung growth in children and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in adults. These illnesses are increasing in their frequency and in their severity. Scientists are also researching links between air pollution and dementia, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
With air pollution being so dangerous it’s no wonder that Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has introduced a £10 T-charge for older polluting petrol and diesel cars in the capital centre. The charge came into force on the 23rd October 2017, however it is already meeting opposition.
Opponents argue that it would “disproportionately penalise London’s poorest drivers”. Others argue it is not doing enough. Simon Birkett from the campaign group Clean Air London says that he wishes the mayor to “take steps which are bigger, stronger and smarter”. This T-charge is soon to be replaced by an even stricter Ultra-Low Emission Zone in 2020, although Mr Khan is in consultation on whether to bring this forward to 2019.
There are also continuous studies on the effects of urban forests on air pollution. For over a decade, scientists have been researching the impacts of trees on the removal of fine particles which have such a detrimental effect on our health.
Trees not only improve the quality of life of the resident population by decreasing heat stress and improving mental health but urban tree stands also modify the city’s climatic characteristics and air quality. The tree stands remove carbon dioxide by sequestration and remove various air pollutants which are absorbed into the tree.
It has been found that a 10 x 10 km grid in London with 25% tree cover was estimated to avoid two premature deaths and two hospital emissions per year. In a US study, urban forests typically reduced mortalities by one person per year in most cities with as many as seven people per year being saved from premature death in New York City.
However, a study conducted in France suggests that although trees can help in the reduction of air pollutants, the method of relying on urban forests should not be the ultimate solution to emission reduction.
Instead they argue that this method should be a complementary one, with focus on reducing emissions from the source, developing more energy efficient technology and building/organising cities to reduce energy consumption and associated emissions.