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IMechE report calls for new Clean Air Act in UK

A new report by the UK-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) calls for urgent action to tackle the damage to health caused by air pollution. Health problems range from slowing the proper development of children’s lungs through to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases among the elderly. A 2016 report by the Royal College of Physicians put the annual deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution in the UK at around 40,000.

Broadly, the report calls for the creation of a modern Clean Air Act that takes a holistic approach—i.e., not just targeting individual sectors, but encouraging everyone to play a role in reducing emissions. The original Clean Air Act of 1956 focused on tackling smoke and sulfur dioxide in the wake of the five-day Great Smog event that was directly linked to the deaths of more than 4,000 Londoners.

The IMechE report makes a number of recommendations, including for the introduction of a coherent national scheme to monitor emissions from different modes of transport so that informed targets can be set, and for incentives to be introduced to encourage freight deliveries outside of peak hours. The report also contests that bi-mode trains do not produce the same benefits for passengers as an electrified train network and calls for Government to work with Network Rail to deliver the complete electrification of the main rail lines between Britain’s principal cities and ports.

IMechE says that the new Clean Air Act needs to set out ways to help the 71% of local authorities which missed their 2017 air quality targets. It must also have a broad scope which addresses emissions from across all the UK’s transport modes. The UK must take assess emerging technologies for carbon emissions throughout the technology’s entire lifecycle, including the procurement of parts and fuel.

Part of the problem is that climate change and air pollution are not talked about in the same circles. However, they are both challenges that the UK needs to overcome, as they are both damaging to our health and the environment. It is important that we calculate and monitor all our emissions, recording those responsible for climate change, eg greenhouse gases (GHG), and air quality, eg particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

—IMechE report “A Breath of Fresh Air”

Electric vehicles, which produce lower emissions, encounter challenges both at the start of production of their battery cells and at the end of life, owing to issues such as the economic viability of battery recycling.

Individuals breathe in 20kg of air every day and because we can’t see it, we don’t know about the harmful particles it contains. Regular commuters encounter air pollution twice a day up to 250 days a year. Even railway stations have relatively high levels of air pollution from diesel. Major railway stations with high numbers of diesel-operated trains include London Marylebone, Birmingham (New Street and Snow Hill), Manchester (Piccadilly and Victoria), Liverpool Lime Street, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol Temple Meads and Cardiff (Central and Queen Street).

While much of the media focus is on our capital, it is worth noting that this is a serious problem that affects us all. Different communities will require their own solutions; for example, in cities outside London the proportion of public transport is lower, so the proportion of emissions from diesel and petrol cars is greater. In Manchester, 43% of emissions come from cars and just 11% from buses.

Technology has its part to play in addressing the problem, but there is a role and responsibility for individuals too. Back in the 1950s, doctors kick-started a national movement on the risks of smoking; there is a need to start doing the same with air quality, to encourage people to drive less and use public transport, walk and cycle more.

—Philippa Oldham, lead author

The “Breath of fresh air: new solutions to reduce transport emissions” report recommends that:

  • Government introduce a national monitoring system, across the different types of transport, recording all types of pollution, to create a coherent picture against which national targets can be set.

  • Government to incentive cleaner technologies and encourage the phase-out of legacy vehicles with poor emissions record across the network, for example diesel cars and trains.

  • Government to consider incentivizing freight and logistic operators to make deliveries outside peak hours.

  • Conduct a series of trials on existing diesel railway rolling stock, new bi-mode trains and in major stations, to understand the level and effect of exposure to pollutants has on commuters and railway workers.

  • Conduct a series of trials to understand the impact on the individual of exposure to pollutants in overground and underground railway stations, ports, airports and bus stations.

  • Create a positive and dynamic campaign that informs the public of the health benefits of switching to lower-emission modes of transport.

  • Work with Network Rail to deliver the complete electrification of the main rail lines between Britain’s principal cities and ports and in major urban rail networks.

  • Fund research through the Clean Air Fund and Innovate UK to create programs to clean up various transport modes.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers was established in 1847. Headquartered in London, it has operations around the world and more than 120,000 members in more than 140 countries working in industries such as the automotive, rail, aerospace, medical, power and construction.



The report is comprehensive (lengthy) and has some very interesting observations including brief summaries on different fuel and energy options including hydrogen etc etc.
There are reports associated with this one stating that Although we have good handle on PM2.5 not much is known of PM1 except that as a health hazard it seems likely much worse owing to it's ability for deeper penetration. The ability to monitor PM1. and is only beginning to provide the data.
I assume the UFP described can also be called PM1 < PM1.

" These monitors will need to record all
types of pollution including oxides of nitrogen
(NOx), particulate matter (PM) and ultra fine
particles (UFP)."....
"In addition to NO2, health professionals believe
PM to be a big concern. PM, particularly those
categorised as PM2.5 or Ultra Fine Particles (UFP)
(particles with a diameter of less than 2.5μm –
1/400 of a millimetre – or 50 times smaller than
the width of a human hair). These small particles
can be absorbed deep into lungs, where our bodies
have few defenses to break them down or remove
them. They may be able to make their way into
the bloodstream and these particulates have been
linked to illnesses such as dementia"....
"PM2.5 Particulate Matter ≤2.5µm"....


The various reports of air quality in Europe is so conflicting that it is impossible to really tell what's going on there.

For example, this IMechE report states:

"...It has become evident that London has a particularly bad NO2 problem, with levels similar to such cities as Shanghai and Beijing. This puts it among the worst cities globally in terms of overall air quality...." (Page 07)

However, the latest official report by the European Environmental Agency - "Air quality in Europe — 2017 report; EEA Report, No 13/2017" - states that <10% of Europe's population lives in an area that exceeds Europe's ambient air quality standard for NO2, and that's mostly because Europe has adopted the extremely restrictive (overly restrictive?) WHO guidelines for ambient NO2 of 40 µg/m3. EU has NOT adopted the WHO guidelines for any of the other criteria pollutants. If it had, PM10, PM2.5, ozone, SO2, and benzo(a)pyrene would all be far more of a concern that NO2.

Based on Figure 6.1 (page 42) of the EEA report, there would NOT be any monitor (of the thousands monitoring for NO2) that would exceed the U.S. ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for NO2. The U.S. NAAQS for NO2 is 53 ppb or about 100 µg/m3, i.e., about 2.5 times higher than the European standard for NO2.

USEPA JUST reviewed the adequacy of its NAAQS for NO2 and concluded the 53 ppb (100 µg/m3) was adequate as is (

Hard to believe there is such a crisis when there would not be any monitors in London or anywhere else in Europe that would violate the U.S. NAAQS for NO2.

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