Crime is in the air: air pollution and regulation in the UK

Professor Reece Walters
Tuesday, 1 September 2009

This briefing focuses on the human costs of air pollution and failed attempts to adequately regulate and control such harm.

In his report, Professor Reece Walters highlights the fact that an estimated 24,000 British residents die prematurely every year and thousands more are hospitalised, because of air pollution. Furthermore, the European Union is currently preparing a legal case against the British government for repeatedly breaching pollution levels. Professor Walters points out that more than 20 towns and cities have been found to be emitting pollution at twice the level specified in WHO standards.

Commenting on his research, report author Professor Reece Walters said:

'Existing government regulations to tackle air pollution are based on a biased and erroneous partnership model that takes a soft approach with commercial polluters. The annual prosecutions for offences are appallingly disproportionate to the harm caused by air pollution. The existing regulatory system prioritises trade and economic prosperity over public safety; and this is totally unacceptable.'

Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies said:

'The serious consequences of air pollution are frequently neglected. Crime is in the air indicates that current approaches to regulation and pollution control are biased in favour of economic imperatives and are failing to tackle the health problems caused by air pollution. Perhaps this is because the majority of people affected live in low income areas.' 

The report was funded by the Wates Foundation as part of the What is crime? project.