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Construction site in south London

Health effects of air pollution

Why it’s vital for the construction sector to be engaged in improving air quality

23 August 2021
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2 min read

An opinion piece from our partner, the Centre for Low Emission Construction.

Daniel Marsh
Programme Manager, Centre for Low Emission Construction

Air pollution has a devastating impact on health and disproportionately affects those who often contribute the least to the problem: children, older people and people with heart and lung conditions. Poor air quality is an issue of health inequity that intersects with other drivers of poor health – which is why we’re committed to finding equitable solutions. This means focussing on the sectors that are currently contributing the most to emissions in our inner-city areas but are eager for change.

Daniel Marsh, Programme Manager at the Centre for Low Emission Construction, explains why it’s vital that people working in the construction sector understand the health effects of air pollution and are proactive in improving air quality in and around construction sites.

 

When we think about air pollution in our cities, we often think of vehicles and congested roads bringing areas to a standstill. Policies like the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) aim to deliver real results to address the problem, with the increased use of cleaner vehicles lowering harmful emissions. But traffic is just one source of dangerous air pollution; we also need to urgently address the other main sources, including from the construction industry, which is a sector that I know well.

It doesn’t really matter which direction you look in London, the skyline seems to be dominated by tall tower cranes, large infrastructure projects, areas of regeneration, and other building works, often running over many months, or even years. This construction activity, and the large machinery used across the sites, can, if not properly controlled, significantly contribute to air pollution and affect the health of residents and workers.

There is some regulation in place through London’s policy and planning requirements, and the large infrastructure projects have set ambitious targets to try and control emissions. But these often only use the minimum amount of clean technology, rather than aiming for innovation and using the cleanest available technologies.

Traffic is just one source of dangerous air pollution; we also need to urgently address the other main sources, including from the construction industry

Because of my extensive experience of partnership working with the construction sector I know, there is a lack of readily available information about local air quality, the environmental and health impacts of the daily site activities, the solutions that are already available, and what delivers emission reductions.

The Centre for Low Emission Construction at Imperial College London is working with the construction industry and supply chain to better understand what the sector’s immediate, and longer-term, requirements are to help reduce their environmental impacts and to better understand what the barriers are to increased uptake.

This exciting research, funded by Impact on Urban Health, will be used to develop tools and approaches urgently required by the construction sector to further promote the adoption of low emission technologies that will deliver real-world reductions in construction emissions.

We would like input from a range of stakeholders, including environmental health officers, planners, developers and their contractors, environmental and sustainability professionals working across the industry. So, if you work in the industry and would like to help shape the future of construction, please complete the short survey.

Do you work in the construction sector?

Take this short survey to help us understand the level of awareness of air pollution and carbon emissions in the sector.

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