Figures by Public Health England (PHE) have revealed that the richest areas in London and Southeast of the country have the worst air quality and warned that pollution contributes to around 29,000 deaths in the UK each year, making it “the biggest public health risk after smoking”.
The report found rich Kensington and Chelsea to be the most polluted areas in London – where one in 12 deaths occurred – with 4,034 people dying in 2010 from causes related to particulate air pollution in Southeast England.
According to experts, much of the pollution derived from burning fuels to generate heat and electricity and from vehicles, especially from PM2.5.
Areas with the least pollution-related deaths were parts of Scotland, Cumbria, Northumberland and Cornwall.
Dr Paul Cosford, PHE’s director of health protection and medical director, said, “Policies that encourage a shift from motorised transport to walking and cycling would be expected to reduce total vehicle emissions, including particulate pollution.
“If this could be achieved in towns and cities, then we could expect local improvements in air quality. There would also be health benefits from increased physical activity through walking and cycling.”
He added that local authorities should consider implementing low emission strategies and increase green spaces.
Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates commented, “It’s outrageous that tens of thousands of people die prematurely in England every year because of polluted air.
“Ministers and local authorities must develop an urgent action plan to introduce cleaner vehicles and encourage the use of alternative forms of transport – people won’t be able to breathe easily until they do.”
Air pollution hit the headlines earlier this month, when a combination of emissions, weather events and a dust storm caused very high levels of pollution in some parts of the UK.
Meanwhile, a report by the UN has warned that emissions from traffic could rise in the future but that governments have the means to reduce them.
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