SOUTHAMPTON is today at the centre of a traffic pollution health alert, the Daily Echo can reveal.
The city is lagging behind strict European emission controls – six years after they were put in place.
Now environment campaigners say tough action is needed as delays in addressing the issue are “costing people their health”.
Limits on the toxic gas, which is mainly created by traffic fumes, should have been met by January 2010.
The European Commission (EC) has launched legal action against the UK due to a failure to cut levels of nitrogen dioxide, which could lead to a £300m fine.
Now it has been revealed the city is one of 16 areas in the country which the European Commission says the government has not put forward a plan to reduce emissions.
Southampton City Council says its own air quality action plan could bring emission levels in Southampton down to an acceptable level by 2016.
It comes a year after the Daily Echo revealed high levels of the pollutant particle PM2.5 were recorded in Southampton by analysts at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
And shock figures from Public Health England show the percentage of adult deaths in Southampton due air pollution in 2011 was 6.3 per cent – the second highest in the south east.
The UK Supreme Court has already ruled that air pollution limits are regularly exceeded in the 16 areas including Southampton, and now the EC has decided to act in the first legal action of its kind.
Maria Arnold, health and environment advisor at environmental lawyers ClientEarth, which brought the case to the supreme court, slammed the growing problem with air pollution data.
She said: “Government need to wake up and take some real action to tackle cancer causing diesel fumes. Levels of pollution are illegal and delay is costing people their health, it's as simple as that.”
South east Green MEP Keith Taylor said he would have liked to have seen a plan put in place sooner to improve the air pollution problems in Southampton.
He said: “Air pollution is a serious threat to people's health, and needs to be treated as such. I hope that the council sticks to this plan and brings about the changed needed to clean up the city's air.
“The fact is that the vast majority of air pollution comes from road transport, particularly diesel engines.
“To seriously tackle this invisible killer we need a transport revolution that reduces the amount of vehicles on our roads.
“We need to see serious investment in alternatives to private transport. This means increasing the amount of cycling and walking and investing in attractive public transport options.
“Unfortunately residents of the city do have cause for concern about these dangerous levels of air pollution.
“We know that thousands of people in the UK die early every year because of bad air but, thankfully, we also know that there are solutions to the problem.
“I hope that people keep a close eye on their council to ensure that everything possible is done to reduce the damage caused by air pollution.”
A spokesman for the city council said the main cause of air pollution is vehicle traffic and all AQMAs are based by busy roads.
The council says it aims to reduce levels by encouraging people to use public transport more and share school runs, and by cutting the number of heavy goods vehicles using the road.
It recently opened a new Sustainable Distribution Centre in Nursling, where deliveries for areas of the city can be dropped off and delivered by one lorry, as opposed to several.
They said: “Millbrook and Redbridge Road is our most significant AQMA, which showed some of the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in the city during 2012.
“In recent years the levels of air pollution have tended to decline and the data is suggesting that efforts made to improve air quality through the city’s Air Quality Action Plan could achieve levels below the threshold by 2016.”
Panel: The ten worst areas in Southampton for nitrogen oxide levels - Bevois Valley Road - Bitterne Road West - Winchester Road - Town Quay - Millbrook Road and Redbridge Road - Romsey Road - Commercial Road - New Road - Burgess Road - Victoria Road