The government has proposed options for a third runway at Heathrow as part of plans to cope with the estimated doubling of air passengers over the next 30 years. But the Department for Transport (DfT) calculates that the extra runway would mean that by 2015, around 35,000 people could be exposed to nitrogen dioxide levels in excess of EU limits to come into force in 2010.
Campaign groups argue that this should render any expansion of Heathrow Airport impossible for at least a decade. A joint statement released by HACAN Clear Skies and Stop Stansted Expansion last week reads: "The environmental impact of expanding Heathrow or Stansted is unacceptable and would be contrary to a raft of national and European regulations."
HACAN chairman John Stewart added: "If the plans went to a public inquiry, with pollution levels above EU limits, they would fall at the first hurdle."
But BAA insists that an extra runway at Heathrow is still viable and has challenged the government's pollution estimates. A spokeswoman said: "The DfT has estimated that 35,000 people will be exposed above EU limits, but we think it's about 14,000."
BAA accepts that some of the technology to cut emission levels will not be available before 2015. "There are air quality issues at Heathrow," admitted the BAA spokeswoman. "The government would have to take action to mitigate these effects."