Up to 200,000 Deaths in UK caused by Airborne Pollutants

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A report published last week suggests that long-term exposure to air pollution may have been a factor in up to 200,000 premature deaths in the UK during 2008..

Research by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), an independent advisory group of experts reporting to the Department of Health, found that human-made particulate matter, primarily from road transport, accounted for the loss of 340,000 years of life every 12 months.

The report concluded that air pollution was responsible for the equivalent of 29,000 premature deaths a year, but COMEAP stressed that along with other factors, air pollution was likely to have taken an average of just under two years off the lives of 200,00 people. Removing just one microgram per cubic metre would increase life expectancy by around 20 days, COMEAP said, adding that if it were possible to remove all human-made particulate matter, the UK would see a six-month increase in life expectancy from birth.

Professor Jon Ayres, chairman of COMEAP, admitted that expressing the effects of air pollution numerically is fraught with difficulty. But he stressed that poor air quality was having a direct impact on life expectancy.

“The report clearly shows that particulate air pollution continues to have a significant effect on health in the UK and, importantly, that reducing concentrations of this pollutant would lead to significant gains for public health,” he said.

The report comes just days after the release of a new Air Quality Strategy for London, which drew criticism from green groups who claimed it did not do enough to cut the high levels of pollution in the capital that have drawn repeated reprimands from the EU.

Campaigners Environmental Protection Agency UK said today’s report demonstrated Mayor Boris Johnson’s strategy must be much tougher on airborne pollution or risk subjecting Londoners to further health problems.

“This shocking new report is unequivocal about the massive impact that air pollution has on the health of the UK public. It is high time the issue was taken seriously – action to mitigate pollution must be prioritised immediately,” said James Grugeon, Environmental Protection UK chief executive. “In light of this new evidence, which suggests thousands of Londoners are dying premature deaths every year due to air pollution, the Mayor’s decision to scrap the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge and delay the implementation of Phase 3 of the London Low Emission Zone looks even more deplorable.”

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