asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) what discussions his officials have had with the World Health Organisation regarding the direct and indirect human health implications of air pollutants associated with acid rain and the need for research in the United Kingdom in this area; and when these discussions took place;(2) if he will make a statement on any discussions since 1980 which he or his officials have had with their counterparts in the health or environment agencies of other Governments regarding the direct and indirect human health implications of the air pollutants associated with acid rain.
The main links with health and environmental officials from other countries have been through meetings arranged by the World Health Organisation. The United Kingdom was represented at a conference on the health effects of acid rain organised by the European office of WHO and held in Berlin in July 1984. The European office also arranged a series of meetings between 1984 and November 1986 on air quality guidelines, attended by officials from the Department and other United Kingdom experts, at which effects of air pollutants interrelated with acid rain were considered. Additionally, departmental officials have discussed this topic with their United States counterparts, following the report of a workshop on health effects of acid rain held at the United States National Institute of Environmental Health Science in December 1983.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what research has been done in the United Kingdom since 1968 to investigate the effects of ambient levels of the various pollutants associated with acid rain on sections of the population susceptible to, or suffering from asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer; and if he will summarise the results.
The programme of research at the former Medical Research Council air pollution unit, at St. Bartholomew's hospital, started in the 1950s continued through to 1981, covering, among other things, the monitoring of effects on health of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, sulphuric acid and other particulates, associated in other contexts with acid rain. The MRC is the main Government-funded agency for United Kingdom biomedical research receiving a grant-in-aid from the Department of Education and Science.
The work included studies of exacerbations of illness among large groups of patients with existing respiratory disability, largely attributable to bronchitis, but with other conditions such as asthma and lung cancer represented. From 1968 onwards these studies showed a sharp decline in adverse effects, corresponding with the implementation of the Clean Air Act, that gained momentum during the 1960s. Day-to-day changes in death rates from respiratory diseases have been monitored continuously since 1968, and this work still continues, in collaboration with the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. Throughout that period, with much reduced levels of pollution, there has been little evidence of any of the sharp peaks in deaths such as had been seen frequently in earlier years in relation to periods of high pollution.
There is no evidence to indicate that acid rain itself has any adverse effect on health, even among people already suffering from respiratory illnesses.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what research has been performed in Britain to investigate any possible links between acid deposition and the following ailments: dialysis dementia, dialysis osteomalacia, dialysis dystrophy, and Alzheimer's disease; and if he will summarise the results.
I shall let the hon. Member have a reply as soon as possible.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will outline the nature and goals of research which has been performed, or has been commissioned, since 1980 by his Department or the Medical Research Council into the direct and indirect health effects of ambient levels of air pollutants associated with acid rain and, in particular, projects concerning the human health implications of the following (a) inhalation of sulphuric acid and nitric acid aerosols, (b) inhalation of sulphates, (c) inhalation of particulates. (d) inhalation of sulphur of dioxide, (e) inhalation of nitrogen dioxide, (f) inhalation of ozone, (g) public consumption of potable water contaminated by aluminium. (g) cadmium, mercury or asbestos and (h) public consumption of fish contaminated by heavy metals.
Research on the following direct effects of air pollutants associated with acid rain has been undertaken as follows:
(a) Experimental human inhalation studies with sulphuric acid mists were in progress at the clinical section of the Medical Research Council toxicology unit in 1980–81, to examine short-term effects on lung function. The MRC is the main Government-funded agency for United Kingdom biomedical research receiving a grant-in-aid from the Department of Education and Science. There were no studies specifically with nitric acid aerosols.
(b,c,d) The same investigations included some pilot studies with sulphate aerosols and other particulates, and an extensive series of studies on sulphur dioxide had been completed prior to 1980.
(e) Research work on effects of nitrogen dioxide have been concerned more with exposures indoors, from heating and cooking sources, than with those outdoors. Work on interrelationships with respiratory illnesses, commissioned by the Department, was in progress in 1980–81, concluding with a series of publications in 1982 in the International Journal of Epidemiology. As the findings were complex, I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the original reports.
(f) There has been no research on the effects of inhalation of ozone, but data from environmental monitoring carried out by Government Departments and other groups have been examined in order to consider possibilities of any direct effects on health. No detectable effects on health would be expected at the levels occurring from time to time in the United Kingdom.
(g) The Medical Research Council is undertaking studies on levels of aluminium in patients with Alzheimer's disease and on the occurrence of that disease and related neurological conditions in relation to concentrations of aluminium in potable water. Other indirect effects of acid rain that have been suggested, such as through the mobilization of heavy metals would be blocked by regulatory controls on levels of contaminants in water.
The possibilities of any direct or indirect effects of acid rain on human health are kept under close scrutiny, in line with the conclusions of the WHO meeting in 1984; it is not considered that any clear indications of adverse effects have been produced.(h) Questions about public consumption of fish contaminated with heavy metals are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture,Fisheries and Food and I understand controls exist and monitoring is effected by his Department.