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Air Pollution

Volume 164: debated on Monday 18 December 1989

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make information available about levels of air pollution in urban areas; and if he will make a statement.

Following the incident of elevated ozone levels in the summer, the Government decided to make available the data collected on the Warren Spring laboratory ozone measurement network on a daily basis during incidents. We have now decided following recent adverse winter conditions that levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) collected in the same way will similarly be made available. A daily summary will be issued when any one of the WHO guidelines is exceeded.These are:

  • SO2: 122 parts per billion (ppb)
  • CO: 25 parts per million (ppm)
  • NO2: 210 ppb.

This is a further example of our determination to improve public access to environmental information. Levels of these pollutants reached in the United Kingdom fortunately do not pose significant threats to human health and we do not, of course, want to alarm people unnecessarily. Nevertheless we believe that people should have the facts and judge for themselves.

We already have major action in hand to reduce these pollutants. Action on car exhaust emissions agreed in the European Council last June will drastically reduce emissions of CO and oxide of nitrogen from all new cars after the end of 1992 and will ensure a downward trend in the levels of these pollutants in towns and cities. The new standards will cost the motorist some 1ยท5 billion per year compared with current ones. We are pressing the Commission to bring forward new standards to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from heavy diesel vehicles. We also have major commitments to reduce emissions of SO2 and oxides of nitrogen from power stations and are encouraging a few remaining local authorities who have not yet introduced smoke control programmes in affected areas to do so to ensure compliance, by April 1993 at the latest, with European directive limits on smoke and sulphur dioxide.

Air quality standards and criteria for monitoring them are set by European Community directives for smoke and SO2 , for NO2 , and for lead in air. Only one breach (outside derogation areas) has occurred this year. It is of the NO, directive, for which the criterion is that a level half that of the WHO guideline must not be exceeded for more than 175 hours in a year. This breach occurred because an indoor source of NO2 interfered with the monitor in question. No other breach is anticipated.