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Deaths from pollution are more common than deaths from car accidents

Report by Centre for Cities highlights danger from poor quality air

For the East Midlands the figure is more than one in 18. That is the number of deaths that can be related to air pollution according to a report from the Centre for Cities.

This death rate is higher than the death rate from traffic accidents.

The charity examines issues facing large urban areas in the UK – anything from the death of the High Streets to the best way to build houses. It’s stated aim is to maximise the economic potential of these places and this week its Cities Outlook 2020 report focused on the dangerous air we are breathing.

The Centre issued the following release:

More than one in 18 deaths in the East Midlands’ largest cities and towns are related to long term exposure to air pollution, according to new estimates in Centre for Cities’ annual study of the UK’s major urban areas – Cities Outlook 2020. That’s 18 times the regional rate of deaths from traffic accidents.

The proportion of deaths related to the deadly toxin PM2.5 are highest in Derby, with the latest data linking it to 128 deaths in just one year, or 5.7% of all adult deaths in the city.

In total, an estimated 885 people were killed by PM2.5-related deaths in the East Midlands’s large cities and towns in just one year. At 5.5%, the proportion of deaths linked to PM2.5 in the East Midland’s large cities and towns exceeds the national urban average of 5.2%.

Mansfield has the smallest proportion of deaths related to PM2.5 the East Midlands. There, PM2.5 caused 120 deaths – or 4.9% of all adult deaths in the city.

These deadly levels of PM2.5 are currently legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, despite breaking the World Health Organization’s air pollution guidelines.

PM2.5-related deaths in the East Midlands
RankCityTotal number of PM2.5-related deathsPM2.5-related deaths as a percentage of total deaths
1Derby1285.7%
2Leicester2215.6%
3Northampton975.6%
4Nottingham3195.5%
6Mansfield1204.9%
Deaths in people aged 25 and over, 2017

Transport is a significant, but not sole contributor to air pollution; burning fuels is also a major cause. For example, half of deadly PM2.5 toxins generated in cities and large towns come from sources such as wood burning stoves and coal fires. Not all of it is locally generated – some in the south of England is blown in from continental Europe.

The proportion of deaths related to the deadly toxin PM2.5 is highest in cities and large towns in south eastern England such as Slough, Luton and London, where an estimated one in 16 people die from exposure.

Half of local authority leaders polled by Centre for Cities highlighted the environment as a major concern, but progress has been slow and they must do more to prevent more avoidable deaths from air pollution. Cities in the East Midlands should:

  • Introduce Ultra Low Emission Zones to charge car and van drivers in city centres.
  • Ban the use of wood burning stoves and coal fires in areas where air pollution exceeds guidelines.

Meanwhile, the UK Government should do more to help politicians in the East Midlands act. It should:

  • Adopt the WHO’s stricter guidelines on PM2.5 – as the Scottish Government has already done – and make a legally binding commitment to meet this by 2030 at the latest.
  • Triple the size of the Clean Air Fund to £660 million to help cities fight air pollution.
  • Provide financial incentives for cities to improve air quality through the establishment of an Environmental Impact Bond.
  • Make securing plans with the EU to tackle cross border air pollution a key component of the future relationship.

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said:

“More than half of people in the UK live in cities and large towns. And while they offer people good employment and lifestyle opportunities Cities Outlook 2020 shows that they also having a damaging effect on their health, with air pollution killing thousands of people living in cities every year.

“Politicians often talk tough on addressing air pollution but we need to see more action. People in the East Midlands should be at the centre of the fight against its toxic air and councils should take the steps needed, including charging people to drive in city centres and banning wood burning stoves. 

“To help the Government needs to provide the East Midlands’ councils with extra money and introduce stricter guidelines. The deadly levels of polluted air in the East Midlands are entirely legal. This needs to change. As a matter of urgency the Government should adopt WHO’s stricter guidelines around PM2.5 emissions. Failure to act now will lead to more deaths in the East Midlands.”

A note on particulate matter

  • Particulate matter (PM) is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air.  It can be either human-made or naturally occurring. Examples include dust, ash and sea-spray. PM2.5 means the mass per cubic metre of air of particles with a size (diameter) generally less than 2.5 micrometres (µm).
  • Inhalation of PM2.5 can negatively affect health and there is no safe threshold below which no adverse effects would be anticipated. 
  • The biggest impact of particulate air pollution on public health is understood to be from long-term exposure to PM2.5, which increases the age-specific mortality risk, particularly from cardiovascular causes.

The full report is here:

The Centre for Cities is here

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