The Commons Environmental Audit Committee reported that dangerous levels of particulate matter (PM2.5 or PM10) and chemicals (such as NO2) in the air are contributing to tens of thousands of early deaths every year in UK cities.
According to a statement, an Environmental Audit Committee inquiry has also found that ministers appear to be trying to dilute safety standards to avoid EU fines.
Chair of the committee Joan Walley MP said: ‘It is a national scandal that thousands of people are still dying from air pollution in the UK in 2011 — and the government is taking no responsibility for this.
‘If you have heart disease, asthma or other respiratory illnesses, then living near a congested road like this can literally take years off your life.’
Around 30,000 deaths in the UK were reportedly linked to air pollution in 2008, with 4,000 in London alone.
Business plans produced by the Department for Transport and Defra reportedly fail to mention air quality, despite a commitment in the coalition agreement to work towards full compliance with EU air quality standards.
The government will be able to pass EU fines for air pollution breaches to local authorities, subject to new procedures in the Localism Bill, and claims that councils have the tools available to improve air quality.
However, the report raises a number of concerns about the ability of councils to tackle this problem without co-ordination and assistance from central government and points out that the causes of poor air quality are often beyond an individual authority’s control.
Caroline Lucas MP, a member of the committee, said: ‘Ministers must take urgent action to improve air quality across the UK — and step up efforts towards a greener transport policy to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport.’
Under EU air quality laws, the daily pollution levels of PM10 must not be above the legal limit on more than 35 days in a year. By 21 April 2011, London had already exceeded this year’s target, according to the Campaign for Clean Air in London.