UK airports fail air pollution test

Levels of a toxic atmospheric pollutant exceed EU limits at most airports in England, according to a new report published by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP).Over two thirds (16 out of 23) of the airports included in the CSP’s study recorded dangerously high levels of nitrogen dioxide - a noxious gas that irritates the airways of the lungs and causes breathing difficulties.

The EU says nitrogen dioxide levels need to stay below 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air (mcg/m3) to be safe, but airports in Newcastle, Birmingham and London (Heathrow and Gatwick) exceed this recommendation by up to 75 per cent.

Readings at airports in Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool, Sheffield, Humberside, London (City), Southampton, Exeter and Gloucester are up to 50 per cent higher than the EU target.

Respiratory physiotherapists say the consequences of being exposed to the gas can be especially severe among people with existing lung conditions, like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.

CSP spokesperson, Professor Grahame Pope, says:

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“The effects of airport emissions on air quality and public health are of serious concern to physiotherapists.”

“It’s not just nitrogen dioxide polluting the environment around airports; our study reveals high ozone (see note 4) concentrations at some sites too.”

“There’s no doubt that aircraft contribute to the problem, but it should be noted that cars, buses and taxis ferrying passengers to and from these sites are dominant sources of pollution.”

“With cheap flights making air travel more affordable, several airports want to expand capacity. We would urge the government to consider ways of balancing passenger convenience with improving public health when looking at these proposals.”
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