How to stop the construction industry choking our cities

Photograph:AndyRainEPA
Photograph:AndyRainEPA

Poor air quality, with diesel the biggest culprit, is now thought to be the cause of 40,000 deaths in the UK each year.

But while cars and lorries have attracted most attention, less reported is the contribution of other polluters to the problem, particularly construction sites.

According to the most detailed air-quality study in the UK, the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, construction sites are responsible for approximately 7.5% of damaging nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, 8% of large particle emissions (PM10) and 14.5% of emissions of the most dangerous fine particles (PM2.5).

While a small amount of this (about 1%) is dust from site activities like demolition, the vast majority comes from the thousands of diesel diggers, generators and other machines operating on sites.

In 2005, more than 230 construction workers a year were reported to have died from cancers caused by exposure to diesel fumes.

Yet this machinery is not held to the same emissions standards as on-road vehicles. What’s more, its proportionate impact will only get higher as on-road emissions drop, according to Daniel Marsh, King’s College London academic and project manager for the London Low Emission Construction Partnership.

So what are the chances the industry can improve?

Given the construction industry’s questionable history with asbestos, which wasn’t regulated until 1983 or completely banned until 1999 – almost 40 years after the cancer link was proven – some are sceptical. In 2005, the Health and Safety Executive found (pdf) that each year more than 230 construction workers die from cancers caused by exposure to diesel fumes, a figure it hasn’t since updated, even though more is now known about diesel’s noxious effects….

Read full article: Joey Gardiner, Thursday 20 April 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/apr/20/air-pollution-construction-industry-cities-diesel-emissions-london

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