Opinion: Smog and why we need the European Union

Smog from Primrose Hill LondonWe have suffered poor air quality across south east England for days. The authorities warned older people and people with cardiovascular problems to stay indoors. Ambulance call-outs in London rose by 14%, and David Cameron abandoned his usual morning jog, describing conditions as, “Unpleasant, but it’s a naturally occurring weather phenomenon.”

Although worse in urban centres, poor air quality has been a concern for years in some villages on major roads in West Sussex; air pollution is widespread.

400,000 people across the EU die each year because of air pollution, including 29,000 in the UK. Public health suffers, with rising costs to health care and the economy. Estimates for total health-related costs from air pollution range from €330 to 940 billion per year.

More deaths are due to poor air quality than to road traffic accidents, making it Europe’s top environmental cause of early death. Air pollution causes lost working days, with vulnerable groups such as children, asthmatics and the elderly worst affected. It also damages ecosystems through excess nitrogen pollution and acid rain.

In February, the European Commission began legal action against the UK for failing to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution, despite 15 years of warnings. Britain has been singled out for “persistent” breaches of the air quality directive and failing to meet agreed targets.

Other EU member states are also falling short of both agreed EU air quality standards and the guidelines of the UN World Health Organization.

Air pollution does not respect national boundaries! The current pollution was created in the UK and mainland Europe. It is exacerbated by dust from Saharan Africa and weather conditions. However, significant and damaging pollution will remain in the air we breathe when the weather changes. Experts believe we should be concerned about this general level of air pollution on the health of residents.

I am ashamed that the country that introduced the Clean Air Act of 1956 is subject to legal action by the European Commission for its failure to deal with its dirty air in 2014. But I’m glad the European Commission is there to take action to force the UK to tighten up our rules, and to take the appropriate enforcement, given that successive British governments have failed to do so.

* Morwen Millson is a West Sussex County Councillor since 1989, deputy leader of group, member of Horsham Constituency Executive (and asthmatic!).

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • It is accepted that ignoring the element of sand from the Sahara, the smog in London and the south east in recent days was principally caused by emissions coming from the continent..


    You seem to have conveniently missed it out of your argument!!

    Is it your hypothesis that we need to stay beholden to the EU in order to support the German building of new coal fired power stations that will burn brown coal (Lignite) the dirtiest coal of all, ensuring we have a secure supply of polluting emissions available from the Ruhr, to pollute southern England for decades to come.

    Apart from that slight omission, Nick Clegg would have been proud of your selective use of facts.

  • @raddiy Europe should not be burning more coal. But, let’s look at the options: 1. we can leave the EU and lose all influence over its environment policies, and suffer whatever pollution comes our way or 2. we can remain in the EU, and continue to show leadership on European environment policy. I know which I prefer.

  • @ Ian Eiloart

    What influence over environmental policies. Germany is planning on scrapping its 17 nuclear generating sets, and replace them with coal generating sets. German scientists expect the coal generating capacity of Germany to increase from 42% to 50%. Why are you not influencing the EU to stop Germany building them.


    Your influence on environmental policies seems to be determined by how quickly you can force the closure of British coal generating sets, and how quickly you can force our heavy industrial energy users out of business or offshore by unilaterally increasing the taxes on carbon way in excess of that paid by our competitor on the continent.

    You might prefer to show leadership on envormenental policy, but you don’t. What Germany wants, Germany gets, and whether we are in the EU or not in the EU, the polluting emissions from those stations will continue to created health damaging smog across southern England.

    Will Germany care a jot?
    Of course it won’t, as long as its industrial energy security and energy costs are protected, those of you talking about enviromental leadership can whistle, if you had any power, not a single coal fired power station without carbon capture would be allowed.

  • Raddiy
    In your first comment you accuse someone of being selective with the facts. In your second comment you are extremely selective with the facts about the future plans for energy sources in Germany. Are you deliberately misleading people or do you just not know what the Greman plans really are.

    You could easily demonstrate that you really are aware of the German plans by posting a comment revealing the percentage of energy they plan to come from renewables by 2050.

    Of course if you do not – we will know that you are not just selective with the facts but also cavalier with the facts.

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