Adam Harrison: We must widen our mission for clean air
OPINION: Camden's cabinet member for improving the environment Adam Harrison argues we must act now on air quality
08 February, 2018
Labour councillor Adam Harrison
THE status quo is not good enough, and we shouldn’t stand for it any more.
That’s a statement that holds true for too many things in society today. This week, on one big matter that affects every last one of us, Camden Council took a big step towards shifting the status quo onto a much better place. Councillors voted to adopt new, tough, World Health Organization standards on air pollution.
The old measures implied that Particulate Matter – the dust and particles that come off brakes, tyres and burning fossil fuel – were at safe levels. Given the harm we know that this substance can do, getting right into people’s lungs, this risked being misleading. We now need to galvanise the whole borough behind an ongoing campaign to drive these levels right down.
Everyone can do their bit. The new measures include tackling those who opt to leave their engines idling, a choice which poisons the air around them. Measures also include the council and parents working with schools to shift traffic away from where young people are gathering. And they include helping members of the community to assess the air pollution on their own streets so we can get an on-the-ground understanding of where the problems are.
A community-led project has already helped us identify an issue with the air around the many schools in Hampstead. Together with residents we want to see the impacts of the school-run minimised for all. Camden’s own research has shown that if you are inside a car you are even more exposed than if you are outside. But bad air doesn’t just hang around cars.
There are, at least, three lesser-known parts to this puzzle.
* First, the air we breathe indoors. There are formal standards that should be applied, and some of them reference WHO limits. But we don’t have people talking about this enough yet. Trade unions have played a part in assessing this. Just as public interest in outdoor air quality has exploded in the last few years, so it now should grow when it comes to the air we breathe inside and out. Campaign groups like Close the Door, which calls for shop doors that allow in air pollution and waste energy to be properly shut, need to be heard.
* Second, from the air inside to the air underground, more and more people are wanting to know about the state of the air in the tube. I am a daily user of the Northern and Circle lines as they run through Camden. The tube is an excellent way of getting around. But we need to make sure tunnel cleaning is up to the standards we need. The review of Underground air that Mayor of London Sadiq Khan ordered last year is a welcome step towards securing reassurance on this front.
* Third, the big, looming question of carbon emissions and climate change has not gone away. We will all know people these days who return to London and comment “I could taste the pollution as I came back in”. We now have a more visceral relationship with something that used largely to pass us by. But what poisons our air is also heating up the planet. Air pollution and climate change have pretty much the same source. In future let’s think about them both together: the air pollution we can taste as we go about our daily business is also harming the Earth.
Our air quality mission is boroughwide and Londonwide, but it also needs to be countrywide and beyond.
Let’s come together to slash air pollution not just for ourselves but for the planet too. Please go to camden.gov.uk/airquality to find out more.
Cllr Adam Harrison is Cabinet Member for improving Camden’s environment.