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UK Air Quality Strategy

The development of air pollution control in the UK has been strongly influenced by the smogs experienced in cities during the 1950s, particularly the Great London Smog. As a result of measures put in place in response to the smogs, the UK no longer experiences high levels of smoke and sulphur dioxide pollution. The Environment Act of 1995 included a requirement for the development of a strategy to address areas of poor and declining air quality, to reduce any significant risk to health and to achieve the wider objectives of sustainable development in relation to air quality in the UK. The final version of the UK Air Quality Strategy was published in response to this Act on March 12th 1997, with commitments to achieve new air quality objectives throughout the UK by 2005. It is currently reviewed every three years, with the last review in 2000.

The Air Quality Strategy identifies clear measurable targets to improve air quality in the UK by 2005, based on understanding of the health effects of the pollutants concerned and costs of emission reduction methods. The Strategy sets out standards and objectives for the 8 main health-threatening air pollutants in the UK: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, particulates, ozone, lead, benzene and 1,3- butadiene. The standards are based on an assessment of the effects of each pollutant on public health. They are based on recommendations by the Expert Panel on Air Quality Standards, standards used by the European Council (EC), and guidelines used by the World Health Organisation. The Strategy sets out the contribution key sectors, such as industry, transport and local government, will need to make towards achieving objectives. Improvements in air quality will not be made without cost. Consequently, the objectives introduced under the Environment Act 1995 will be achieved through the best available techniques not entailing excessive cost.

Industry is a significant emitter of air pollutants. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 some 2500 of the most polluting processes have been made subject to Integrated Pollution Control, whilst a further 13,000 processes have been made subject to Local Air Pollution Control. It is primarily through the continued operation of these controls that reductions in emissions will be secured. In addition industry will have a role to play in securing reductions from other sector responsible for pollution, such as transport, and will be expected to adopt high standards of environmental management. The Strategy will be subject to periodic reviews to assess the progress towards meeting the objectives and ensure the continuing relevance and cost effectiveness of the proposed measures.