Leamington resident abused when asking 'idling' motorists to switch off their engines in her fight against air pollution

Leamington resident Joan Allen has been abused on many occasions when she has asked drivers to turn off their engines while they wait in their cars. In a special first person viewpoint article, she writes about why everyone should unite to help learn more about this issue - after all, poor air quality is everyone’s problem.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 11:48 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 11:49 am

It is a fact that Leamington Spa is one of the most polluted towns in the country (in the top 31).

The quality of our air is getting worse due to the amount of traffic on our roads and the practice of engine-idling - sitting in your car at length with the engine running - therefore unnecessarily polluting the air.

It is happening outside our schools at ‘pick-up ‘ time, at railway stations, at supermarkets, on roadsides as people talk and text on mobiles with the engine running. I have witnessed council workers/contractors, minicab drivers, housing association drivers and others sitting in their diesel vehicles eating their lunch with their engines on, thus spewing out harmful fumes for all to breathe. Note that a lot of the perpetrators are in work diesel vans, so not paying for the fuel. Their companies may have something to say about that.

Leamington resident Joan Allen has been confronting people who have been 'idling' - which refers to running a vehicle's engine when the vehicle is not in motion.

I live on Guy’s Cliffe Avenue, with two schools on the road - a secondary and primary. Every day I have parents outside my flat at school end in cars with engines running - as long as 30 minutes! Primary school children have to walk past them on their way home and breathe in the fumes.

Also, when children from the school walk to the tennis club on the same road to engage in some healthy exercise. I even feel the effects of the fumes in my flat as my eyes start to sting and my throat becomes dry and sore.

Why are we allowing this to happen? We know that car fumes, in particular diesel, are harmful to our health - especially to those with respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Car pollution is increasingly being linked to other diseases, including stroke, dementia, cancer and diabetes (according to a 2016 report by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health).

Traffic pollution (poisonous pollutants nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM10s) was proven to have caused the untimely and tragic death of a nine-year-old asthma sufferer in London in 2013. A report by Professor Stephen Holgate, an expert on asthma and air pollution, points out that pollution is a “ major risk factor for childhood asthma”. An average of three people die each day from asthma in the UK, one of Europe’s worst records.

Air pollution causes around 40,000 premature deaths in the UK. Britain continues to break the law and exceed EU air-quality levels, plus the annual threshold set by the World Health Organisation.

It may not be easy to ask people to turn off their engines; people do not always like being told what to do and can get defensive and offensive: I have been told to mind my own business, described as a ‘sad lady’, accused of voting for Jeremy Corbyn, told by a schoolgirl, ‘It’s our car, we’ll do what we like!’ Some of these people even revved their engines as I walked away.

Of course it will take a collective effort to change and improve things.

I would like to see a campaign launched to tackle this problem, with input and support from the whole community, the council, schools, local media, driving schools, hospitals, surgeries, libraries, supermarkets, businesses - in the form of posters, signage, leaflets. This would, in turn, educate people regarding the issue, and empower people to challenge the perpetrators.

It needs to be a visible campaign, in the public domain, to demonstrate the ill-effects of engine-idling. Brookhurst Primary School is already making a start on this; next week members of their Eco club will be writing to Trinity School to highlight the problem. Thank you to them and their teachers! After all: “It is everyone’s fundamental right to breathe clean air”.

By Joan Allen

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