16th December 2019

New research shows no safe limit for air pollution

New research published in the British Medical Journal on 30 November has shown that airborne emissions of fine carbon particles – known as PM2.5 – can have serious health impacts even when the level of concentration is below the World Health Organisation’s guideline limits for air pollution. [Note 1]

PM2.5 emanates especially from fuel combustion and transport sources and is one of the major issues associated with airport expansion, not only because of the additional air pollution caused by the increased number of flights but also from the additional road traffic generated by the increase in passenger numbers travelling to and from the airport.

The results of the research confirm previously established associations between PM2.5 and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as Parkinson’s and diabetes. [Note 2] In addition, the study found evidence of health impacts not previously associated with PM2.5 including septicaemia, fluid and electrolyte disorders, skin infections and infections of the urinary tract.

Stansted Airport is already a major source of PM2.5 air pollution and, in connection with its current planning application to increase its permitted throughput from 35 to 43 million passengers per annum (mppa), the airport was required to provide a report on the projected PM2.5 pollution levels. In summary this report showed as follows: [Note 3]


Emissions of PM2.5 (tonnes) Actual 2016 Projected for 2028 if limited to current cap of 35mppa Projected for 2028 if expansion to 43mppa approved
Aircraft 5.5 6.2 6.7
Other airport sources 1.6 2.3 2.5
Airport related road traffic 3.8 3.7 4.4
Total 10.9 12.2 13.6


SSE health adviser, Professor Jangu Banatvala, commented: “Stansted Airport’s own figures show that if its current planning application were to be approved, the airport would be responsible for putting an annual total of 13.6 tonnes of PM2.5 into the air that we all, as local residents, have to breathe. That’s 25% more than today, which is wholly unacceptable when this new research removes all doubt as to the connection between airborne pollution from fine carbon particles and severe health impacts upon the local population.”

Professor Jangu Banatvala concluded: “The paramount duty of Uttlesford District Council is to do all that it can to safeguard the health of its local residents. In view of this new research it is inconceivable that our local council could permit any further airport expansion until such time as this can be achieved without increasing the risks to the health of the local population.”


Note 1: ‘The cost of air pollution to Health’, Wei Y, Wang Y, Di Q et al – BMJ, 30 November 2019. Professor Banatvala adds: “Exposure to noise and air pollution are among environmental factors inducing a broader spectrum of disease than has hitherto been recognised. Recent research is now unravelling the molecular mechanisms by which tissue damage is induced by such environmental factors”. The WHO guideline limits for PM2.5 are a concentration level of no more than 10 micrograms per cubic metre (annual mean) and 25 micrograms per cubic metre (24-hour mean).

Note 2: A 2016 report from the Royal College of Physicians [‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’] highlighted the links between air pollution and cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. The report estimated that around 40,000 deaths a year in the UK are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, describing it as one of the major health challenges of our day.

Note 3: Stansted Airport Environmental Statement, February 2018, Volume 1, Chapter 10, Table 10.10.

Professor Jangu Banatvala: 01279 850386; (M) 07787 158506; jangu.banatvala@gmail.com
Brian Ross, SSE Deputy Chairman: T 01279 814540 or (M) 07850 937143; brian.ross@lineone.net
SSE Campaign Office, T 01279 870558; info@stanstedairportwatch.com

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits