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Saharan dust or traffic pollution? Media resonance and air pollution awarness in a UK episode

From 2nd to 4th of April 2014, South East UK have been affected by a serious air pollution episode that rised a public debate on the socio-economic impacts of this environmental risk.

This episode gained high visibility on the mainstream media also because of the combination of phisical and visible elements and changes in environmental governance. The first has been the deposit of “saharan dust” that was spotted in south east England from the days before the peak of air pollution and the latter was the shift in the management of the air pollution forecasting for UK, where the UK Meteorological Office took over from AEA Technology. The Met Office already provided the weather forecasts for the BBC and ITV the main channels in UK TV and had good connections to mainstream media broadcasting.

That combination of cultural and organizational factors may have given space to higher visibility of a chronic problem for most of UK areas. EU had already in February 2014 urged UK to take measures against air pollution as 16 English regions are over the legal limits for NO2 that we were meant to meet in 2010.

SEFIRA researcher Ben Barrat from King’s College underlines how a more serious air pollution episode have occurred in UK at mid-march 2014 but it went under-perceived by the public in UK probably for the low physical visibility of the PM pollution even if media and informed public opinion where made aware of it in Western Europe. The main problems for the public are related to the background levels of toxic pollutants, that produce the bulk of the risk for the population permanently exposed to it but there are also many critical hot-spots expecially in high-populated urban areas. National environmentals campaigns like Healtyair and charities like Asthma UK have taken this episode very seriously denouncing the high risks for the general publics as well for vulnerable categories. Local and national administrators have been put under scrutiny as public awareness about air pollution damages is growing. The lessons that can be drawn by this UK episode, also for SEFIRA project, that there is still a strong link between visibility and public awarness of air pollution. Several communication tools and strategies have been developed by local and european authorities in order to push toward more responsable individual behaviour expecially in consumption, heating and mobility but the UK episode shows that maistream media attention and direct experience of air pollution are still important drivers of public awareness and agency.

 

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Socio Economic implications For Individual Responses to Air Pollution policies in EU +27

SEFIRA has the objective of creating a European coordination of transdisciplinary scientific and socio-economic resources in order to support the review and implementation of air quality legislation by the European Commission (EC) led by DG Environment. SEFIRA will coordinate some of the best scientific and socio-economic resources and will review air quality policies and legislation at the interface between environmental, economic and social sciences in order to achieve a deeper understanding of these complex issues. The main fields involved in the action will be atmospheric sciences, environmental and legal sociology, anthropology, geography and economics.