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Professor Martin Williams appointed as Clean Air Champion to spearhead major programme tackling air pollution

UK Research and Innovation has launched an ambitious new programme to improve air quality and reduce its health impacts in the UK with the announcement of three Clean Air Champions, including Professor Martin Williams as part of the Clean Air programme.

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Clean air champion

The Champions will bring together the UK’s world-class air quality research base to develop practical solutions for air quality issues, as part of the programme.

The Clean Air programme aims to develop solutions to air pollution to help policymakers and businesses protect health and work towards a cleaner economy. The programme is a £19.6m collaboration funded under the Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF), involving multiple workstreams managed by organisations within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Met Office. The programme is running for three years from 2018.

The Champions are:

  • Professor Martin Williams, Head of Science Policy and Epidemiology team at King’s College London and former Head of the Air Quality programme at Defra;
  • Dr Jenny Baverstock, Senior Collaboration Fellow at the University of Southampton.
  • Professor Stephen Holgate, MRC Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton;

Professor Williams role will be to maximise the synergies within this large research programme and to keep the UK at the forefront of research into air pollution and its effects on public health.

In a joint statement, the newly appointed Clean Air Champions said:

We are delighted to be chosen as the UKRI Clean Air Champions. Recognising that atmospheric pollution in the UK is responsible for ~40,000 early deaths and costs of ~£20bn pa to health services and business, our role is to be thought leaders, flag bearers, and strategy owners for the new Clean Air programme. We will bring together outstanding researchers in atmospheric, medical and social science in joined-up thinking and ground-breaking solutions to help create a sound health-based policy, innovative business and trusted public information for the benefit of current and future generations.

In addition to the appointment of the Champions, major activities that will take place under the SPF Clean Air programme have been announced.

These include the launch of five exciting new research projects funded by (UKRI). The projects include the development of improved tools and technologies for measuring and predicting emissions, investigation of the factors underlying individual exposure to pollution and disease, and methods to understand how a broad range of policy changes might affect air quality. These are the first projects commissioned under the programme with further calls expected.

The Clean Air projects will create the foundation for interdisciplinary research to understand and tackle air quality issues, drawing on the existing strengths of the UK’s world-class research base. This is a timely programme that will enhance our capability to respond to current and future threats to public health and build a more resilient, cleaner economy. – Duncan Wingham, SPF lead and Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC),

Other King’s projects under the Clean Air programme include:

APEx: An Air Pollution Exposure model to integrate protection of vulnerable groups into the UK Clean Air Programme

Led by Dr Ben Barratt, King’s College London

Project partners: King’s College London, University of Reading, University of Edinburgh, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, University of Birmingham, University College London

Current methods for assessing the impact of clean air policies are entirely based on outdoor air quality, without considering human behaviours or susceptibility. This study will place people at the centre of the problem by creating an exposure model that more accurately reflects the air that people breathe as they interact with the city. The tool will be used to instigate new solutions to protect the health of vulnerable groups, allow the refinement of existing solutions to increase impact and reduce unintended consequences.

DREaM: Component-Specific Air pollutant Drivers of Disease Risk in Early to Midlife: a pathway approach.

Led by Dr Ian Mudway, King’s College London

Project partners: King’s College London, Imperial College London, Durham University, University of Cambridge

High pollutant concentrations are linked to a range of long-term adverse health effects, and it is thought that as well as aggravating symptoms, air pollution may contribute to the development of disease. DREaM will identify the ways in which the components in the air pollution mix affect people’s vulnerability to cardiovascular disease and the causal mechanisms behind this, by examining DNA modifications in key genes associated with air pollution. The findings will help to develop targeted mitigation actions and communication strategies to help people understand the risks to health.