Air quality challenge beats ozone fears

Improving air quality represents a challenge on a scale far in excess of reversing the damage caused to the ozone layer, a respected scientist told a transport conference last Thursday.

Dr Iarla Kilbane-Dawe from the Department for Transport said: “Ozone was always going to be easy to fix; improving air quality has a whole different level of complexity”.

 He was addressing the TRL Academy Symposium at the Royal Society of Chemistry in London.

“Laws were put in place in 1987 within a year of the ozone layer being discovered,” he added. “There were a small number of manufacturers to deal with, the point was reasonably understood and it was in the financial interest of manufactures to tackle CFCs.

“But climate change represents another level of complexity and air quality adds a further of level of complexity still,” he continued. “However air quality is far better than it was 60 years ago after six decades of concerted action.”

Dr Kilbane-Dawe said that the impact of air pollution on health has only begun to be fully understood within the last five to 10 years. 

More work is needed, he added, to understand how “hard driving” is having an affect on air quality and further evidence is required as to the impact the country’s existing fleet of vehicles is having on pollution levels.

“Vehicle engineers and air quality scientists need to be talking to one another a lot more,” he continued. He added that the Government is committed to tackling poor air quality through a range of initiatives.

Among those listening to the presentation was Professor Margaret Bell CBE FCIHT of Newcastle University. She told TP Weekly News that “radical changes” are needed in the way we view our travel needs if air quality is to improve. “The best way to tackle air pollution is to reduce the number of vehicle kilometres travelled,” she said. 

“For me it is not a matter of just trying to clean up an engine’s exhaust emissions or introduce new vehicle technology. Even if all vehicles were to be electric we are still not going to reach our carbon dioxide limits, unless we decarbonise the National Grid.

“Driving in future will need to be seen as a privilege, not a right.”