- by Bayad Abdalrahman, FFPH
- Co-chair, FPH’s Global Violence Prevention SIG
Air pollution is a serious public health issue and high on the agenda now. Last year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Public Health England (PHE) collaboratively produced guidance to ensure evidence based actions are taken nationally and locally to improve air quality.
The WHO guidelines states that that there are no safe levels of the main pollutant of concern, Particulate Matter (PM), and impacts on air pollution are observed below levels permitted by EU and UK limits (1). The guidance also states that for long term exposure (over months or years) the levels should not exceed annual average concentrations of PM of 10 μg/m3 of PM2.5 and 20 μg/m3 of PM10 (2):
There is now mounting evidence that long term exposure to air pollutants contributes to the development of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory illness. The Department of Health’s (DH) Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) estimated the burden of PM air pollution in the UK to be equivalent to nearly 29,000 deaths and an associated loss of population life of 340,000 life years lost (3).
It is not disputed that military conflicts are associated with massive release of pollutants into the environment including air. The war in Iraq associated with hundred thousand tonnes of pollutants from military vehicles and weaponry that continue to adversely affect the public’s health.
A great legislation that contributed to limit the environmental damages from industry is the Polluter Pays Principle (PPP). The PPP is a well-established National, European and International code through which the costs of pollution prevention and control measures should be paid by polluter.
The preventive function of the PPP which is based on the assumption that the polluter will reduce pollution as soon as the costs which he or she has to bear are higher than the benefits anticipated from continuing pollution. The control measures should be decided by public authorities to ensure that the environment is in an acceptable state (4).
In applying the above principle to the war in Iraq, it would be useful to know how much consideration had been given to the air quality and the PPP in the decision making process to invade Iraq. It is less likely that this was an issue for the decision makers but would they now face the consequences and take responsibility to clean up the mess, in particularly following the publication of the Chilcot report?
Further, the health impacts from air pollution are not limited to the residents of the affected area but also to serving military personnel. This should be highlighted to new army recruits as occupational hazard and measures should be taken to reduce the adverse effects.
Future generations in Iraq and conflict zones need access to clean water
More research is needed to quantify the war-related environmental pollution as a considerable potential contributor to Iraq’s poor health conditions and high rates of mortality from CVD and cancer.
For the sake of future generations of Iraqis and others growing up in former conflict zones, we cannot let winning the peace be at the expense of access to clean water as well as good air quality and health.
(1) Review of evidence on Health Aspects of Air Pollution – REVIHAAP: final Technical Report, World Health Organization Office for Europe, 2013
(2) WHO air quality guidelines global update 2005, World Health Organisation, 2005
(3) The Mortality Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution in the United Kingdom A report by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, 2010
(4) ORGANISATION FOR ECONOMIC CO-OPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT (OECD), THE POLLUTER-PAYS PRINCIPLE Analyses and Recommendations, ENVIRONMENT DIRECTORATE, Paris 1992