Air pollution, human rights and health
Another recent case highlights the importance of the HRA and Convention rights in the context of environmental health issues.
In recent articles, we have covered issues including the interplay of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) with climate change, the link between air pollution and Covid-19-related deaths and environmental noise nuisance. Another recent judgment demonstrates the relevance and applicability of the HRA and European Convention rights in the context of health and environmental matters.
In R (On the Application of MR) v the Environment Agency  EWHC 2501, the Administrative Court considered a judicial review action brought on behalf of Mathew Richards, a vulnerable five-year-old boy who is badly affected by hydrogen sulphide (H2S) emissions from Walleys Quarry Landfill Site (WQLS), a company operated pursuant to an environmental permit issued by the Environment Agency (EA). The judgment contains detailed analysis of complex scientific and health issues that are beyond the scope of this update. In short, the judge concluded that:
- The continuing exposure to H2S emissions was at a level that was “an inevitable precursor” to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for Mathew, something that was a serious illness that reduced life expectancy.
- As such, there was a real and immediate risk that triggered the positive operational duty under Article 2.
- The positive operational duty under Article 8 was similarly triggered as adverse effects of environmental pollution had a direct effect on Mathew’s home, family life and private life.
- To comply with its legal obligation, the EA needed to implement the advice of Public Health England and take measures to ensure that off-site odours are reduced to meet WHO guidelines.
This is an important judgment involving important issues. It reinforces the importance of the HRA and Convention rights in the context of environmental health issues that cross both the private and public sectors. For anyone involved in this area of work, the judgment also sets out a detailed analysis of the applicable Strasbourg cases (paragraphs 36 to 42) and their relevance to considering the operational duties under Article 2 and 8 in the context of air pollution. It should be noted however that the Environment Agency has stated its intention to appeal aspects of the judgment.
If there is anything you want to discuss or if you require any further assistance relating to the issues raised, please contact our environmental lawyers.