Air pollution ‘kills 7,500 Londoners each year’

The number of deaths attributable to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter PM2.5 air pollution in the UK capital may be as high as around 7,500 each year, claims campaign group Clean Air in London (CAL).

According to CAL, its new estimates are “significantly higher” than previous official estimates and are based on documents published by the London Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) as part of the current consultation on the proposed 2020 ultra low emission zone (ULEZ).

CAL claims its mortality estimates are based on data published as part of the ULEZ 2020 consultation

CAL claims its mortality estimates are based on data published as part of the ULEZ 2020 consultation

Current official estimates put the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution in London at 4,300 each year, but this figure only relates to PM2.5 pollution.

For the ULEZ consultation, which was launched last month and runs until January 9 2015, a Health Impact Assessment by consultancies Jacobs and Ricardo-AEA has been published online, which includes estimates for ‘years of life lost’ for both the base-case and ULEZ scenario in 2020.

Based on data in this document, CAL projects that PM2.5 will be responsible for 5,061 deaths in 2020, with NO2 the cause of 2,684 deaths that year.

These estimates assume a population in the city of 9.13 million, but when taking into account potential overlap of the impacts of the two pollutants, CAL claims this would put the total air pollution deaths in London that year at 6,851.

In addition, CAL projects that in 2025 – five years after the ULEZ is set to be introduced – the number of deaths attributable to PM2.5 will be 5,159, with NO2 responsible for 1,893 deaths, based on a London population of 9.48 million.

But, ahead of the 2020 ULEZ, CAL said it “speculates that total deaths attributable to NO2 and PM2.5 currently may be around 7,500 in London and around 55,000 in the UK”.

As a result, CAL founder and director Simon Birkett is calling on the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to recommend the inclusion of forthcoming official estimates of NO2 mortality rates in annual Public Health Indicators.

The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) is set to publish figures on the health impacts of nitrogen dioxide, which are expected to show an increase in the number of deaths attributable to air pollution. Current estimates for PM2.5 pollution alone set the number of premature deaths in the UK at 29,000 each year.

However, as well as urging the implementation of the Commission’s proposed Clean Air Package of measures, which may be reviewed in the new Commission (see airqualitynews.com story) Mr Birkett criticised the London Mayor’s plans for the new 2020 ULEZ.

He said: “CAL congratulates Mayor Johnson for publishing these new estimates for ‘years of life lost’ attributable to air pollution. However, the new estimates confirm again that the Mayor’s co-called ULEZ in 2020 is too small, too weak and too late.”

London Assembly

Responding to the claims made by CAL, London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi said the figures were “shocking” and also called for the proposed ULEZ to be introduced sooner than 2020, as well as encompassing a larger area with tighter emission standards.

Mr Qureshi commented: “For years we have known air pollution is the capital’s silent killer, now we know just how bad the situation has got. For 4,300 Londoners to prematurely die as a consequence of air pollution was shocking enough. The fact that the real figure is nearer 7,500 it is truly catastrophic.”

He also described the Mayor’s current ULEZ proposals as “unambitious”, adding: “Londoners want to see the proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone made bigger, stronger and more effective. Quite frankly, if these new figures don’t cause the Mayor to wake up and take action, nothing will.”