Government classified the Dartford Crossing – one of London’s busiest highways – as a ‘rural road’, excluding it from government air quality assessments

A government decision to classify the Dartford Crossing as a rural road excluded it from government air quality assessments legally mandated by the European Union, it was revealed today.

According to a report by BBC News, the Dartford Crossing – which carries 50 million vehicles a year across the Thames on a busy stretch of the M25 – was for years classed as a rural road. This meant the government did not have to report air quality standards on the crossing to the EU.

The crossing has now been reclassified after Environment Minister Therese Coffey conceded the decision was an error. “The A282 in Dartford does not appear in the national air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide because it was classified as rural and was, therefore, excluded from Defra’s air quality modelling assessment,” a letter seen by the BBC read.

There appears to be some disagreement over which government department classified the commuter route, officially known as the A282, as rural. In the letter Coffey said the job of road classification was the responsibility of the Department for Transport (DfT), but DfT later said Defra has asked for the Dartford Crossing to be registered as rural.

The error was originally spotted by the Dartford Borough Council, which for years has been collecting air quality data from the Crossing. Its measurements show the road is regularly in breach of EU limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution.

Defra has now promised to include data from the crossing in all future reports to the EU.

As part of its wider air quality efforts the Chancellor is expected to announce more funding for electric vehicles, while Defra is working on a new air quality plan due for release later this year.

The news emerged as a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed more than one in four child deaths are caused by unhealthy environments, including air pollution, second-hand smoke, inadequate hygiene and unsafe water.

More than 1.7 million children under the age of five die every year from preventable diseases that could be avoided by access to clean water, cleaner cooking fuels and education on safe hygiene practices, according to the WHO.

“A polluted environment is a deadly one – particularly for young children,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general. “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”

The most common cause of child mortality linked to environmental health is respiratory infection attributable to poor air quality, the WHO found. Some 570,000 children under the age of five die each year respiratory infections from indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke.

The WHO also warned the rising levels of e-waste pose a growing health risk to children, while climate change is spurring increased pollen growth, boosting asthma rates in young children – a condition made more severe by air pollution.

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