It’s thought to play a part in at least 40,000 deaths every year and is regarded by health professionals as a national crisis, but fixing Britain’s toxic air seems to be low down on the list of priorities for both politicians and the general public.
With the exception of London Mayor Sadiq Khan - who has made it one of his key focuses - there appears to be a distinct lack of drive to clean up the air we breathe.
In the latest in our Beyond Brexit series, HuffPost UK spoke to four experts who told us what needs to be done to improve air quality - and why it’s so important to take action now.
Clean air zones across the country
Anna Heslop is a clean air lawyer at ClientEarth, an organisation of legal activists who focus on environmental issues and contributed to the government being forced to publish its draft air quality strategy in the High Court this month.
She said there is no panacea when it comes to tackling illegal levels of air pollution.
“One thing which would make a big difference would be a national network of clean air zones,” she added.
“According to the government’s own analysis, where legal limits of nitrogen dioxide are broken, around 80% of the problem comes from road transport and diesel vehicles are the main source.
“Clean air zones would greatly reduce the number of diesel vehicles in air pollution hotspots and therefore bring down currently harmful levels of pollution.”
Heslop said it was important for any clean air zone scheme to be coupled with a targeted diesel scrappage scheme and other incentives to encourage drivers to switch to greener forms of transport.
“People should not be unfairly penalised for having bought diesel vehicles in the past, which the government of the time encouraged them to do,” she added.
A properly funded diesel scrappage scheme
Professor Jonathan Grigg is a leading expert in paediatric respiratory and environmental medicine at Queen Mary University of London.
He is also a founding member of the Doctors Against Diesel campaign, which wants to see diesel vehicles banned in urban areas, and runs a weekly asthma clinic for children in the capital.
“The government needs to come up with a carrot and stick approach, in my view,” he said.
“There should be some degree of diesel scrappage scheme that we can all benefit from and pay for. But at the same time, driving diesel vehicles should be more expensive than less polluting ones.”
He said everyone with a diesel car should be given proper opportunities and incentives to swap to greener options, not just a handful.
The government has proposed a ‘targeting’ scrappage scheme as part of its draft strategy - but it would see just 9,000 of the two million diesel cars and vans on UK roads eligible to be traded in.
Prof Grigg added: “The current proposal is an absolute drop in the ocean. It would appear the government doesn’t want to annoy drivers of diesel cars.”
Stop burning fossil fuels
Romain Lacombe is CEO and co-founder of Plume Labs - the organisation behind the Pigeon Air Patrol project, which used tiny backpacks strapped to pigeons to monitor air quality across London.
“The number one policy change that could improve air quality is moving away from fossil fuels for transportation, house and urban heating, and power generation,” he said.
“Shifting from individual, fossil fuel cars to shared, sustainably-powered electric cars would have a tremendous impact on air quality in urban centers across the world.
“While a few forward-looking cities such as Paris and Mexico are planning to ban diesel by 2025, most governments are too slow in effecting this kind of change – when not actively resisting environmental progress.”
“Air pollution is a global pandemic with a dramatic human and medical cost. But with technology, data and science on our side, we can work together to demand clean air.”
The company is also working with a team of researchers at Imperial College London to run London Air Patrol, which uses ‘air sensing technology’ to map pollution data across the capital.
Make people more aware of the health risks
Former Labour minister Lord Paul Drayson is using his company, Drayson Technologies, to gather data on air pollution across London.
Specially developed air quality tags have been installed in a fleet of hire cars, which collect data on emissions levels to build up a detailed picture of pollution hotspots.
Lord Drayson, who served as minister of state for science and innovation under Gordon Brown, said the impact of poor air quality on health has been likened to that of smoking and that steps should be taken to cut the number of diesel vehicles.
“When the link between smoking and lung cancer and other health conditions was identified in the 1960s, it took another 30 years for the general public to accept the evidence and for politicians to take action,” he added.
“It is very clear that action needs to be taken now. It is a health crisis and we must make the argument and win the argument, and I think it is being won.
“The government must use the data and evidence that is being collected to implement policies that will make a real difference.
“This is an opportunity for London to show the way forward.”
HuffPost UK is looking at voters’ priorities outside the hubbub of the election campaign trail and what they want beyond March 29, 2019, not just June 8, 2017. Beyond Brexit leaves the bubble of Westminster and London talk to Britons left out of the conversation on the subjects they really care about, like housing, integration, social care, school funding and air quality.