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Union demands pollution protection for waste workers

The GMB trades union has called for councils and contractors to offer greater protection from pollution for refuse collectors, street cleaners and parking staff.

According to a study on the levels of nitrogen dioxide NO2 airborne pollutants, there are 15 locations in the UK where the limit is exceeded.

Seven of them in are in London (Bloomsbury, Camden, Haringey, Hillingdon, Tower Hamlets, Marylebone Road, and Westminster) while the other eight are in Aberdeen, Bath, Cambridge, Chepstow, Glasgow, Leeds (Headingley), Birmingham and Oxford.

The data, which was compiled from information from 110 air measuring stations around the country, showed that the levels at Manchester Piccadilly and the centre of Leeds were “very near the safe limit”.

GMB wants more local monitoring of air quality and action to reduce further exposure, such as installing monitoring equipment on wagons and barrows.

John McClean, GMB’s national health, safety and environment officer said that councils and contractors “should look at designing street cleaning and refuse collection routes to avoid the times in the areas with the highest levels of pollutants”.

The European Union sets NO2 levels at 40ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre) on average over a year. Nitrogen dioxide is a respiratory irritant which may exacerbate asthma and possibly increase susceptibility to infections.

In the presence of sunlight, it reacts with hydrocarbons to produce photochemical pollutants such as ozone. NO2 can be further oxidised in air to acidic gases, which contribute towards the generation of acid rain.

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