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UK air pollution ‘a major threat to biodiversity’



Nitrogen pollution, which played a major role in the UK’s recent air quality crisis, represents a potentially deadly threat to many animal and plant species, according to a government adviser.

Nitrogen oxide (NO2), which is mostly emitted by traffic vehicles and industry, is one the main causes of the air pollution that engulfed parts of Britain last week, affecting many people’s health.

However, experts have said that pollution does not only affect humans, but is threatening wildlife as well.

Clare Whitfield, air pollution consultant at the government’s conservation advisory committee, told the Independent, “Nitrogen represents a major threat to biodiversity in the UK and across Europe. It is an under-acknowledged and very big issue that has slowly crept up on us.

“The nitrogen level is building up all the time as we continue to add to the pot and increase the cumulative impact.”

Whitfield said that as nitrogen emissions rise, it gets trapped in non-agricultural soil. Different species of plants and insects, such as bees, butterflies, grasshoppers and caterpillars, are among those affected by a nitrogen-rich environment.

The pollution crisis began on Tuesday last week, when the Met Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) warned over very high levels of air pollution across the country. They said it was triggered by atmospheric events, high emissions and a dust storm from Sahara.

Environmental campaigners criticised the government for underestimating the phenomenon and not putting measures in place to improve air quality. The pollution caused discomfort to many vulnerable people, with the London Ambulance Service reporting a 14% increase in 999 calls related to respiratory issues.

Photo:  Jason Howie via flickr

Further reading:

The Big Smoke: pollution levels in London ‘dangerously high’

European air pollution limits still not adequate to reduce health risks

Smog slowly subsides across UK, but city air pollution remains

Pollution alert remains high for the rest of the week

World Health Organisation: air pollution is carcinogenic to humans


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