UK government failing to combat rise of air pollutant ammonia

Friday 21st June 2019 | Jake

A joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Guardian and Channel 4 News has revealed the government is wholly unprepared to deal with the risks stemming from the air pollutant ammonia. The investigation shows that the government has no strategy, no monitoring, no enforcement and no clear plan to reduce emissions of the harmful pollutant.

The investigation also states that should agricultural ammonia emission levels be halved, at least 3,000 deaths associated with the gas could be avoided. Ammonia is a pollutant gas that can come from animals and fertilisers. The gas combines with chemicals in the air to create an airborne particle called PM2.5. This pollutant has a deadly effect, and is linked to respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases and cognitive decline. Despite the government pledging to cut the levels of air pollution, they have done next to nothing to tackle rising ammonia emissions.

Michael Gove, the government’s environment secretary, has acknowledged the risk, promising action. This action is nowhere to be seen. The government has also failed to punish farms that produce the most ammonia. Their inaction has given dairy and beef farms the go-ahead to neglect monitoring, reporting or reducing their ammonia emissions. Ammonia emission levels have risen by a tenth in the past six years, having actually fallen by a fifth from the 1990s to 2013.

The government urgently needs to act. Many farms can reduce emissions with simple solutions, such as covering slurry pits (a high emitter of ammonia). However, for widespread improvement a more cohesive, organised approach is necessary. Gove might like to start by taking a look at cattle farms. Cattle farms produce of the UK’s total ammonia emission. Despite this they are unmonitored for the pollutant, and don’t require environmental permits. This clearly needs to change, as with the wider approach to ammonia emissions.