Weakening EU limits on air pollution would be a serious health threat

Professor Roy Harrison, Queen Elizabeth II Birmingham Centenary Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Birmingham, on UK air pollution laws.


Queue of cars

"I chaired the DHSC COMEAP (Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants) sub-group which published a report on nitrogen dioxide and mortality.

"The group concluded that although the effects of NO2 are difficult to separate from those of fine particles, NO2 is making an important contribution to the approximately 30,000 premature deaths annually attributable to urban air pollution exposure. Since then the evidence has strengthened and the WHO guideline revisions of 2021 recommended a much strengthened guideline of 5µg/m3. In my view the UK should adopt this as an objective, although it will not be met quickly. Any weakening of current EU Limit Values would be highly undesirable, and a serious threat to public health.

"Nitrogen dioxide exposure exacerbates existing respiratory disease and pre-disposes people to respiratory infections. Most urban NO2 comes from road traffic and tighter emissions standards for road vehicles, banning of older diesels, and increased electrification of the vehicle fleet are the appropriate policy response."

Notes for editors

  • Professor Roy Harrison is a member of the Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollution, and the Defra Air Quality Expert Group. He has research grants from the NERC and European Union.
  • For media enquiries please contact Beck Lockwood, Press Office, University of Birmingham, tel: +44 (0)781 3343348.
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.