Air pollution will continue to kill hundreds of people every year in the North-East for at least another decade, the Government has admitted.
Ministers had predicted that European limits on deadly nitrogen dioxide – mainly from vehicle exhausts – would be achieved in the biggest urban areas by 2020.
But officials are now warning that people in Teesside and Tyneside will be exposed to dangerous levels of the gas for a further five years.
Meanwhile, separate figures put the current number of “excess deaths” from nitrogen dioxide and other particulate gases across the region at 1,273 every year.
They include significant numbers of deaths in Teesside, in Stockton-on-Tees (77), Middlesbrough (68), Redcar and Cleveland (61), Darlington (47) and Hartlepool (43).
However, the highest number of people die annually in County Durham (223), followed by Sunderland (143) and Newcastle (124) and Gateshead (99).
Three years ago, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) predicted that nitrogen dioxide targets would be hit in Teesside and Tyneside in this decade.
Its assessment read: “The annual limit value is likely to be exceeded in 2010 and in 2015 but achieved by 2020.”
However, revised estimates buried on Defra’s website have put back that target until 2025 – blaming the delay on higher-than-expected emissions from diesel cars.
Diesel has replaced petrol in many cars – because it produces less carbon dioxide, blamed for climate change – but emissions of nitrogen dioxide are higher.
To the Government’s embarrassment, the original deadline set by the European Union for meeting the limits was 2010.
Jenny Bates, of Friends of the Earth, said: “Failure to meet air pollution limits in our major cities would have serious impacts on the health of thousands of people.
“Rapid steps to ban the dirtiest vehicles and cut traffic levels must be taken – and road-building plans that will simply add to the problem should be abandoned.”
The EU’s air quality directive sets a limit of no more than 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air that we breathe, as an annual average.
But, according to the Defra figures, that figure will be 69 in Teesside in 2015 (Tyneside 68), falling to 47, in 2020 (Tyneside 46) and – finally – to 38, in 2025 (Tyneside 36).
The European Court of Justice will rule by the end of the year on what action Britain needs to take.
A Defra spokesman said: “As our understanding of nitrogen dioxide evolves this must be reflected in our projections, which is why we have revised these figures.
“Work is under way to ensure compliance with EU limits in the shortest possible time.”
Number of annual ‘attributable deaths’ throughout region (age 25-plus)
- County Durham 223
- Darlington 47
- Gateshead 99
- Hartlepool 43
- Middlesbrough 68
- Newcastle 124
- Redcar & Cleveland 61
- South Tyneside 84
- Stockton-on-Tees 77
- Sunderland 143
- Craven 24
- Hambleton 34
- Harrogate 68
- Richmondshire 17
- Ryedale 23
- Scarborough 56
- York 82
- Total 1,273
Source – Northern Echo, 22 July 2014
An environmental campaigner has laughed off claims by the Government that disclosing details about sewerage workings off the South Tyneside coast could endanger our national security.
Bob Latimer has long campaigned for ongoing transparency over the treatment and levels of potentially polluted mine water being pumped into the sea off Whitburn.
The Coal Authority devised the plan to reduce rising levels of mine water from collieries which closed in the early 1990s.
It warns that if water is allowed to continue rising it is likely to result in contamination of an overlying aquifer which supplies drinking water to 30,000 residents in South Tyneside and Sunderland.
Mr Latimer has pursued an ongoing dialogue with the Environment Agency, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and other bodies to keep abreast of pumping levels.
But his latest request for information has led to Defra invoking a regulation which states disclosure would “adversely affect international relations, defence, national security or public safety”.
Mr Latimer requested an update from the government department over information it provided to the European Court of Justice surrounding a breach of a water treatment directive at Whitburn.
And the 71-year-old, who runs the Latimers Seafood Deli in Bents Road, Whitburn, has described the response as “comical”.
He said: “Defra say to disclose the information I am requesting would adversely affect international relations, defence, national security or public safety, and then they go further, stating disclosure would adversely affect the course of justice.
“This is quite comical and makes one wonder why they are withholding the information when all I am doing is asking about a sewerage system.”
Mr Latimer insists disclosure is in the “public interest”, adding: “Withholding information discriminates against the public interest. The public need to rely on Defra to have the ability, as a public authority, to conduct an inquiry in a fair and honest manner.”
In response Ed Beard, head of waste water treatment with Defra, said it was currently in negotiations with the European Commission to rectify the water treatment breach, and claimed disclosure of the information requested would “adversely affect the UK’s relations with the European Commission”.
Mr Beard adds: “We recognise there would be a strong public interest in the disclosure of the information bearing in mind the general arguments in favour of transparency and accountability and Mr Latimer’s long-standing concerns about the environmental impacts of untreated waste water in Whitburn.
“On the other hand, there is a strong public interest in maintaining exemptions as disclosure would likely affect the UK’s ability to hold open and frank discussions with the Commission.”
Defra would not comment further.
Source – Shields Gazette, 10 June 2014