BOROUGH residents have been inhaling polluted air that exceeds international toxic air guidelines, according to data published by the Government.
Most recent data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) shows that across the borough, average levels of toxic particles — known as fine particulate matter or PM2.5 — are at dangerous levels.
World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines state that anything above 10 PM2.5 puts human health at risk.
In Wokingham, this was recorded as 10.37 PM2.5 for human-induced pollution and 10.84 PM2.5 when natural measures are included.
Currently, the UK follows EU limits on levels of PM2.5 instead of the stricter limits set out by WHO.
However, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) are pushing for the UK to adopt WHO standards.
The charity says that the Environment Bill — which returned to Parliament last week — provides the opportunity to do so.
The Bill promises to set legally binding air pollution targets, but some commitments are missing from it, including pledges to adopt the stricter WHO guideline limits.
Jacob West, BHF director of healthcare innovation said: “This Government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take brave political action in cleaning up our toxic air.
“Tackling a public health emergency on this scale requires serious and sustained commitment.
“This could mean changes that might not be easy or convenient for organisations or individuals, but they will prove crucial to protecting people’s health.
“You only have to look at past Clean Air Acts or more recently the smoking ban for examples of bold legislation that has improved the air we all breathe.
“The uncomfortable truth is that UK heart and circulatory deaths attributed to air pollution could exceed 160,000 over the next decade unless we take radical steps now.”
Cllr Sarah Kerr, vice-chairman of Wokingham Borough Council’s climate emergency working group, and Lib Dem councillor for Evendons, has been campaigning for better air quality for some time.
She pointed out that the data that Wokingham Borough Council is collecting on air quality does not cover a range of pollutants.
Currently, WBC only measures nitrogen dioxide. She said: “We’re not monitoring other harmful pollutants such as ozone, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter — and in particular PM 2.5’s — that has been highlighted by BHF research.”
She added that the current method of data collection only provides a monthly average reading — with the exception of one automatic monitoring station that continuously measures NO2 in Wokingham town centre.
Cllr Kerr believes this is a cause for concern. She said: “WBC just does not know the level of pollutants in the air that we breathe.
“Given that air pollution is the number one environmental cause of premature death in the world, this is worrying.
“There are a whole range of chronic illnesses people suffer from that are either caused or made worse by the poor air that we breath, including heart disease, asthma and cancer among others.
“The recent Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) report that came out demonstrated that the number one cause of death in the borough is cancer, and we are below regional and national averages for young children being hospitalised for respiratory tract infections.
“The fact that we are not monitoring air pollutants efficiently and effectively is a serious concern to us.”
Mr West added: “We must not become complacent and accept that dirty air is a part of normal life. Politicians have a unique opportunity to limit the damaging effects of pollution and improve the quality of our air, and they must seize it.
“Everyone can play their part in demanding a healthier environment for all.
“We are urging people to write to their MP to demand a change to the law. The more pressure we put on decision makers, the better our chances of cleaning up our air.”
Cllr Kerr added that with the recent announcement of the climate emergency, air pollution has not been given the spotlight it deserves.
“Fellow Lib Dem, Cllr Paul Fishwick proposed the strategy to lower transport emissions that was approved at council last autumn,” she said.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but so much more needs to be done.”
Cllr Fishwick had previously pushed for a permanently reduced speed limit of 50mph along the M4 between junctions 3 and 12.
“This would have a dramatic effect of improving air quality for the 30,000 residents who live in Lower Earley and Winnersh, within a mile of the M4,” added Cllr Kerr.
However, the suggestion was not implemented.
Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for climate emergency said: “Air quality is something that WBC takes very seriously and regularly monitors via use of technology. Peak time air quality is something we are determined to improve.
“We have already implemented signs in our worst affected areas calling for drivers to switch off their engines while they wait at traffic lights.
“In Twyford we have installed the first of hopefully many living lampposts, which serve to improve air quality, remove particulates and brighten up our streets.
“We are investing in distributor roads to take traffic away for key pinch points, and are investing in technology that will improve the flow of traffic through our towns and parishes at peak times.
“Our declared Climate Emergency is making us look at all aspects of transport around our borough and, as our Carbon footprint reduces we are confident that our air quality will improve significantly.”