A report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) today has turned the spotlight on UK cities that are falling short of clean air standards. Air pollution contributes to thousands of premature deaths every year and poses significant risk to those already suffering from lung or heart conditions.
Ten UK cities are failing to meet WHO standards for fine particle air pollution. This type of air pollution leads to 29,000 early deaths across the country each year. Friends of the Earth is calling for Clean Air Zones to be introduced across all UK cities and large towns and for urgent action to get the worst polluting diesel vehicles off our roads to help save lives.
The WHO report reveals Port Talbot, Stanford-le-Hope, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Scunthorpe, Eastbourne, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton are breaching their air quality standards for levels of PM10 particulate air pollution.
Many more UK cities were also breaching limits for smaller particle air pollution (PM2.5). The popular British holiday escape of Gibraltar is a surprisingly high air pollution hotspot with data revealing it is worse than London.
Though the research shows a slight reduction in overall levels of particulates in the air we breathe across Europe, the figures are not coming down quickly enough to keep people safe.
Air pollution from particulates can cause lung cancer, worsens heart and lung disease and research has revealed there is no safe limit of exposure. Today’s WHO air pollution database also only tells half the story, as it does not include figures on the deadly nitrogen dioxide gas which is also polluting our air and harming our health.
Air pollution must be reduced to meet WHO standards. Friends of the Earth is calling for swift action to make sure that there a fewer and greener vehicles on our roads including Clean Air Zones for all cities and major towns, a generous scrappage scheme for dirty diesel vehicles and investing in walking, cycling and better public transport.
Jenny Bates, Air Pollution Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The figures for Europe might look like they’re improving slightly but we’re still talking about dangerous levels of pollution. There is no safe level of exposure.
“This is yet another report which shows the air we breathe is unsafe. With 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK from air pollution, what more will it take for our political leaders to act?
“This is a public health crisis. It’s time it was treated that way. We need fewer and cleaner vehicles with a Clean Air Zone in every city and large town – and politicians must urgently introduce a diesel scrappage scheme to get the worst polluting vehicles off our roads, as well as more investment in alternatives to driving.”