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Cleaning up air quality and the Environment Act 2021

The longstanding fight for clean air is strengthened by new targets and legislation in the 2021 Environment Act.   Alex Minett, Head of Product and Markets at CHAS, outlines what businesses need to know.

The longstanding fight for clean air is strengthened by new targets and legislation in the 2021 Environment Act.   Alex Minett, Head of Product and Markets at CHAS, outlines what businesses need to know.

There’s little argument that good quality air is key to protecting our health.  A 2020 landmark ruling by a London coroner cited air pollution as a significant factor in the death of a nine-year-old girl with asthma.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) has evidence of links between air pollution and many illnesses.  Yet, it’s not just our health driving the change for cleaner air. The impact on the environment and the push for energy independence also play a part in the air quality agenda.

With work underway to develop legal air quality targets, businesses and their supply chains must adapt to stay compliant.

Air quality targets

Long considered the most harmful air pollutant, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is the focus of Environment Act air pollutant framework.  Two legal targets will be set by October 2022, both heavily weighted towards reducing PM2.5 emissions.

The first target is an annual reduction of PM2.5 in ambient air.  The second is a long-term target to stimulate public investment and focus on reducing population exposure to PM2.5.

There is currently no agreement on a safe level of PM2.5.  Following consultation, a limit will likely be set and act as a standard for PM2.5 measurement.

Impact on and off-site

In early 2022, DEFRA published updated statistics on the primary sources of PM2.5 emissions for the UK.  Manufacturing, industry and construction topped the table of culprits, taking the blame for 27% of emissions.

Start to prepare for increased scrutiny on machinery that emits high levels of PM2.5 and other pollutants.  Legislation is likely to look at recall of products that do not meet environmental standards.  So, ensure you service equipment regularly and consider cleaner alternatives.

Action to lower emissions from all sources of air pollution can be seen across the UK.  Enforcement powers often sit with local governments and councils.  This means at the tender and planning stages, be aware of local rules to measure specific air quality, such as in an air quality management area (AQMA).  London declared AQMA’s in all its boroughs.  This requires ongoing air pollution monitoring on all major development sites with remedial action if levels are too high.

Be aware if your business, or any of your supply chain, will be travelling through Clean Air Zones (CAZs).  This includes the potential expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).  ULEZ targets road traffic with Zone entry fees for the most polluting vehicles.

The latest ‘Clean Air for All Londoners Report’ from The London Assembly Environment Committee, calls for further powers to regulate Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM).  This would bring in a user-charging scheme with penalties for non-compliant plant and machinery.  The Committee plan to lobby government to mandate all construction site developers to monitor air quality.

What can be done on-site?

Portable air pollution monitors are widely available and can benefit all sites that want or need to track their air quality.  There are also proactive steps to lessen the spread of dust and air pollution, such as:

  • Controlling dust through fine water sprays used to dampen down the site.
  • Screening the whole site to stop dust spreading or placing fine mesh screening close to the dust source.
  • Covering skips and trucks loaded with construction materials and damping down with water.
  • Use non-toxic paints, solvents, and other hazardous materials and where possible, no burning on site.

 It’s worth remembering existing obligations to protect your workforce.  Consider portable clean air systems that filter out particulates and other airborne pollutants, particularly in mobile cabins and welfare spaces.  Provide PPE, where needed, and ensure it fits correctly.

Looking ahead to energy independence

The sharp rise in fuel costs and the impact of global events have shone an even brighter light on the drive to move away from fossil fuels.  The effect is a renewed focus on renewable energy to achieve energy independence.  The government has offered big incentives for energy storage technologies.  Harnessing renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, tidal and biomass can play a part in all stages of the construction process for electricity generation.  Adopting low emitting materials, such as ‘green concrete’, eco-friendly insulation, reclaimed wood and recycled steel, can significantly offset the long-term carbon footprint of a build.

Consider using low sulphur diesel together with the latest particulate filters and catalytic converters for all diesel-powered machinery on a construction site.  A step further would be to adopt hybrid technology.  Big-name manufacturers offer equipment such as hybrid excavators, diggers and battery rechargeable lifts. 

With consultations on how to achieve emissions reductions expected throughout 2022, do keep an ear to the ground and have your say on anything that might directly affect you. 

There is little doubt that big polluters will see an increase in costs as air quality awareness increases.  Taking a lead on air pollution now can help future-proof your business.
 

Staying ahead of the curve is key to staying compliant, but keeping up with fast-moving legislation can be a daunting prospect.  Third-party accreditation can help.  For example, meeting environmental management standards is one of the areas monitored through CHAS’s supply chain management service.  Clients can use it, free of charge, to find contractors who take their environmental responsibilities seriously. 

Against the backdrop of escalating energy prices, fuel poverty and net zero targets, ECA draws on its history to offer practical energy policy solutions and represent our Members at government and industry bodies. We support our Members in the transition to net zero and related legislation.  

 

Last updated 16 June 22