The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) leads on developing policies to reduce levels of air pollution. The health-based Defra Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland contains objectives for the major air pollutants expressed as a maximum ambient concentration to be met within a specified timescale. The Strategy also describes the relevant European and UK legislation on air pollutants.
The Air Pollution group of the Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards at the Health Protection Agency has an important role in advising the Department of Health (DH) and Defra on the effects of air pollutants on health. This is done in several ways.
Public health Outcomes Framework for England
The Department of Health has been working with the Public Health Observatories to publish the first set of statistics for its Public Health Outcomes Framework indicators [external link]. The Health Protection Agency’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards arranged the calculation of one of these indicators: an estimate of the percentage of mortality attributable to long term exposure to man made particulate air pollution in each upper tier local authority area in England.
Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants
The Air Pollution Group provides the Secretariat for the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) on behalf of DH. COMEAP provides expert assessment of the evidence on the effect of different air pollutants on health and recommends concentration-response functions to relate changes in levels of air pollutants to changes in effects on health.
The COMEAP website is currently down for maintenance and will be available in shortly. In the meantime some of the committee’s recent documents are available to download below. If you require any other COMEAP documents please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recruiting for Members
The committee are currently recruiting for new specialist members, experts in one or more of the following areas; toxicology, cardiology and medicine. Closing date is 28th February 2013. For more information and details on how to apply visit the Department of Health website [external link].
The committee are now also looking to recruit a lay member. Closing date is 5th March 2013. For more information and details on how to apply visit http://www.dh.gov.uk/health/2013/02/appointments-comeap/ [external link].
- COMEAP statement: Estimating the mortality burden of particulate air pollution at the local level. The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) published its statement on Estimating the mortality burden of particulate air pollution at the local level on 2 August 2012. Following the publication (in 2010) of COMEAP’s national assessments of the mortality effects of air pollution, The Health Protection Agency (HPA) asked COMEAP to comment on the technical considerations that might be particularly relevant to local, rather than national, assessments and to advise on the appropriateness of possible approaches to such calculations.
The statement recommends simplified methods for estimating the mortality effects of particulate air pollution on a local scale.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) intends to produce more detailed guidance on the use of COMEAP’s recommended methods. This will include information on how to obtain and handle the data required. The HPA will also arrange the development of estimates of mortality burdens of particulate air pollution for Local Authority areas.
- Comeap statement: Asthma and exposure to chlorine and associated reaction products at swimming pools The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) published its statement on the question ‘Asthma and exposure to chlorine and associated reaction products at swimming pools’ on 17 July 2012. The Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group asked COMEAP to re-consider this topic, in the light of new studies published since COMEAP last reviewed the scientific literature in 2007.
The statement concludes that whilst the new mechanistic evidence reinforces the biological plausibility of a causal relationship in initiating new asthma in individuals who previously had not experienced the disorder, COMEAP is of the overall view that the epidemiological evidence is now less suggestive of a causal association than was the case in 2007. This statement supersedes previous statements made by the Committee in 2003 and 2007.
- COMEAP report Review of the UK Air Quality Index. The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) on 22 June 2011 published its report Review of the UK Air Quality Index. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) asked COMEAP to review the UK Air Quality Index and this report makes recommendations for a revision of the index. The proposals take into account the requirements of the public for readily accessible information, the results of new research and a number of other relevant developments both in the regulation of air pollution (such as new EU Target and Limit Values) and in the presentation of air quality information.
- COMEAP report: The Mortality Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution in the United Kingdom. The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) on 21 December 2010 published its report 'The Mortality Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution in the United Kingdom', which is a follow up to the 2009 COMEAP report. This report uses the risk coefficient determined by the Committee in 2009 to calculate the increase in life years across the population following pollution reductions. It also calculates the burden to health currently carried by the population as a result of air pollution. The report describes, in detail, not only the approaches used to answer the questions, but also the limitations of the interpretations that can be put on the results.
- COMEAP statement: Does Outdoor Air Pollution Cause Asthma? The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) published its statement on the question 'Does Outdoor Air Pollution Cause Asthma?' on 25 November 2010. The statement, with its supporting papers, considers the suggestion that exposure to outdoor air pollutants might be a primary cause of asthma. COMEAP, in an earlier report, published in 1995, concluded that exposure to outdoor air pollutants may play a part in triggering asthma attacks in people who already have the condition. The statement updates this earlier work and also looks at whether air pollution contributes to the development of asthma in people who have previously not suffered from the disease. It concludes that it is unlikely that exposure to outdoor air pollutants causes asthma in the general population.
However, it is possible that in a small group of those who suffer from asthma, who also live near busy roads, exposure to traffic generated air pollutants, largely from trucks, may have played a small part in causing their disease.
- COMEAP report: Long-Term Exposure to Air Pollution: Effect on Mortality The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) published in June 2009 its report on ' Long-Term Exposure to Air Pollution' . A draft version of this report was released for comment on 17 July 2007.
- COMEAP report: Statement on the Applicability of time-series coefficients to areas affected by emissions of air pollutants from industrial sources (2000)
The Air Pollution Group advises the Government’s Interdepartmental Group on Costs and Benefits on using these concentration-response functions to quantify the health benefits of policies to reduce air pollution. These benefits are then compared with the costs of the policies. This information is important in choosing which policies to recommend in the Air Quality Strategy.
Members of the Air Pollution Group advise the World Health Organization (WHO) on air pollution and health as independent experts.
The HPA’s Health Protection Units and Local and Regional Services provide advice on local issues relating to air quality and health, seeking guidance from the Air Pollution Unit of CRCE as required.