IN RESPONSE to the letter from the Southampton Shipowners Association (letters, September 10), air quality is not an environmental issue, it’s about our health.

Globally, air pollution is linked to one in nine deaths. Within our city, it kills on average 200 people each year. It is linked with cancer, asthma, COPD, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity and dementia.

We are in the middle of public health crisis. The experts agree that there is no safe limit for air pollution, so compliance with arbitrary legal limits will not protect us. The most vulnerable in our community – children, the elderly, those with existing health problems and residents of more deprived areas – are more likely to suffer from the effects of poor air quality. They are the canaries in the coal mine and we should take note. Asthma UK says that Southampton has a higher rate of emergency admissions for asthma than anywhere else in the south of England. Over the past ten years there has been a 25% increase in asthma-related deaths in the UK.

Arguments that Southampton is on course to be legally compliant are simply not based on the available evidence. There are big differences between national and local modelling of air quality for the city and surrounding roads, and therefore we should not ignore the worst case scenario. Wishful thinking will not reduce deaths.

Claims that charging the most polluting vehicles for access into the city will take millions of pounds out of the local economy and cost Southampton a significant number of quality jobs, is scaremongering. There has been no analysis that concludes that. In fact, 70-80% of HGVs are already compliant.

We support the idea that the polluter should pay. The healthcare and social costs of air pollution in England could reach £5.3billion by 2035. What are the costs of dealing with the health impacts of air pollution on Southampton residents? The cost of medication, days off work. The loss of our loved ones. Cleaning up Southampton’s air is a massive undertaking. It will require all our efforts. That includes businesses inside and outside of the port playing their part.

Mandi Bissett

Clean Air Southampton