Letters: Air quality and coronavirus

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Bedford Park blue sky
The incident took place near Bedford Park

Dear editor,

I’d like to raise the issue of air quality and why it’s a particularly important issue right now.

The medical profession has long warned of the harm to health from high levels of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) and PM2.5 (particulates in the air smaller than 2.5 micrometres), emitted by road traffic and industry.

A 2016 report from the Royal College of Physicians suggested up to 40,000 premature deaths annually in the UK could be attributed to air pollution which impairs the first line of defence of the upper airways, so that people living in areas with high levels of pollutants are more prone to develop chronic respiratory conditions.

A new Harvard University study shows higher numbers of COVID-19 (coronavirus) related deaths in people with long-term exposure to air pollution.

Even quite small decreases in air pollution can make a real difference to health outcomes especially now as vulnerable people are infected with the virus.

The continuing enforcement of air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after this virus crisis are vital.

Bedford, like many authorities where air pollutants exceed average limits, is required to review air quality in designated Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and work towards certain air quality objectives.

Although air quality has been slowly improving over the last eight years or so, there’s room for improvement in the town centre and Prebend Street.


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Many people will have seen astonishing images of dramatic improvements in air quality in the most polluted cities in the world due to Coronavirus lockdowns as millions of people stay at home, vehicle journeys are down and industrial manufacturing is reduced.

Some towns around the UK have seen, as a result of the lockdown, an average halving of some pollutants compared to annual averages from 2019.

And Bedford real-time figures are showing an improvement too.

It’s probably no comfort to those suffering appallingly at the moment but it should give us hope that we can hopefully rise to the air quality challenge better after this is over.

The Council must do everything it possibly can to encourage able-bodied people out of their cars, to walk, cycle, use public transport or even just lift share where possible.

Nationally, Greens strongly support a Clean Air Bill which would make clean air a human right.

Yours sincerely
Lucy Bywater
Green Party councillor for Castle ward and air quality campaigner


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