Early deaths from air pollution shame UK, says report

22 March 2010

Air pollution on UK streets is contributing to tens of thousands of early deaths each year and the Government is not doing enough to tackle the problem, according to a report published today by the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee.

The MPs warn that Britain could face millions of pounds in fines if our cities continue to breach EU air quality targets supposed to protect public health.

Tim Yeo MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee said:

"Air pollution probably causes more deaths than passive smoking, traffic accidents or obesity, yet it receives very little attention from Government or the media."

"In the worst affected areas this invisible killer could be taking years off the lives of people most at risk, such as those with asthma.

"The large EU fines we face, if we don’t get to grips with this problem, should now focus Ministers’ minds.

"Much more needs to be done to save lives and reduce the enormous burden air pollution is placing on the NHS.”

According to evidence presented to the inquiry, air pollution could be contributing to as many as 50,000 deaths per year – as it makes asthma worse and exacerbates heart disease and respiratory illness. Averaged across the whole UK population it is estimated that poor air quality is shortening lives by 7-8 months. In pollution hotspots it could be cutting the most vulnerable people’s lives short by as much as nine years, the report says.

Despite these considerable impacts on public health, very little effort is being put into reducing air pollution levels compared with efforts to tackle smoking, alcohol misuse and obesity, the report says.

Air pollution from road vehicles causes the most damage to health, the MPs conclude. A dramatic shift in transport policy is required if air quality is to be improved, they add.

Image: iStockphoto

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