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Welsh Government release White Paper on impact of air quality over lockdowns

The Welsh Government today published a report on its plans for a Clean Air (Wales) Bill to protect human health and ecosystems from air pollution.

The World Health Organisation recognises air pollution as the largest risk to environmental health risk globally. It is estimated that poor air quality causes between 1,000 to 1,400 deaths in Wales every year, as well as reducing life expectancy.

The report released today proposes the introduction of a new air quality target setting out a framework alongside plans to enhance the effectiveness of Local Air Quality Management legislation.

Welsh Government has also proposed anti-idling guidance and increasing the power for local authorities to increase fixed penalty fines for idling engines. It further calls for consolidated powers for road user charging and smoke control. The consultation for the White Paper will start today and run until 7 April 2021.

An additional report has also been released today to assess the effect of pandemic lockdown restrictions on air quality in towns and cities between March and October 2020.

This report reflects a complex situation, with the first two months of lockdown showing a notable decline of some pollutant levels, due to reduced traffic. However, other pollutant levels increased.

Less vehicles on the road led to a decrease of 36% nitrogen dioxide and 49% nitrogen oxides in the context of Welsh roadsides between March and May. However, it was found that a fluctuation in weather brought PM2.5 pollution over from continental Europe.

Wales’ experience of the issue of air pollution is twofold. Firstly, poor air quality has a profound impact on human health, especially the vulnerable which includes children, the elderly, or those with respiratory conditions such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease (COPD). Secondly, air pollution detrimentally impacts environmental health. Increased levels of nitrogen and pollutants contribute to the threat of extinction for Wales’ plants and animals.

‘Breathing clean air and having access to a healthy environment is a right, not a privilege. We must take decisive and lasting action now to enable our future generations to lead healthy lives,’ commented Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs.

Dr. Sarah Jones, Consultant at Public Health Wales went on to say: ‘We welcome the publication of the Clean Air White Paper. It makes a strong connection between health and air quality and recognises that it is often the most disadvantaged communities that live with higher levels of pollution. The White Paper strengthens and supports our work to protect and improve the health of the people of Wales.’

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