Forget global warming for a minute, what about the quality of the air you breathe?

The Independent yesterday reported that a parliamentary report due to be published today will claim that in the UK, because of airborne pollution, 50,000 people are dying prematurely every year with thousands more suffering serious illnesses. The report from the Commons Environmental Audit Committee is expected to be damning.

The UK has not met its binding EU targets on cutting pollution, so as a consequence of our poor air quality in some areas Britain could be forced to pay £300 million in EU fines. These EU fines are not expected are potential. The UK can still ask for more time to address the problem.

It is not just the cost of the fines. It seems that treating those people affected by poor air quality costs the nation £20 billion a year. Air pollution cuts life expectancy, by up to nine years in heavily polluted areas. The average reduction in life expectancy is 8 months.

The Independent points out that there are three key air pollutants.

Nitrogen oxide, of which the UK is the EU's worst emitter. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 1.5 million Britons were exposed to dangerous levels of this pollutant in 2007. This causes breathing problems and aggravates asthma and bronchitis.

The UK also produces too much low level ozone, a toxin that is formed when certain pollutants react with sunlight. This causes eye and skin irritations.

Then there is particulate matter (PM), this has been linked to heart disease and cancer. It is caused by exhaust emissions, burning coal and even from the wear of car tyres. There is no minimum safe level for PM.

While the government has been distracted with carbon trading to combat the still flawed concept of global warming, people have been needlessly suffering and dying from the air they breathe. Maybe if we addressed this issue directly the global warming problem might go away in the process.

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