Guide helps councils calculate deaths from air pollution

Guidance to help local authorities work out the number of deaths that can be attributed to air pollution at a local level has been published by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP).

COMEAP is an advisory committee of independent experts that provides advice to Government Departments and Agencies on all matters concerning the potential effects upon health of air pollution.

Councils can use information such as local particulate air pollution levels to calculate the number of deaths in their area which are due to poor air quality

The ‘estimating the mortality burden of particulate air pollution at the local level’ guidance document, issued on August 2, follows on from COMEAP’s 2010 report, ‘the mortality effects of long-term exposure to particulate air pollution in the UK’, which included estimates of the national mortality burden associated with particulate air pollution in 2008.

This sparked interest in how to carry out similar assessments at a more local level. This is deemed to be particularly useful as local information can be more powerful than national data in communicating the importance of the health impacts of air pollution to both elected representatives and the public.

The guidance offers ‘easy-to-implement’ methods which COMEAP says will be sufficient for calculating of local mortality burdens associated with particulate air pollution and discusses their strengths and weaknesses. It provides formulas where information such as the number of deaths annually in a local area and annual average concentrations of particulate in the air can be used to calculate the number of deaths associated with air pollution.

Deaths

The statement, however, stresses that it is important to express the results of such calculations as ‘as effect on mortality equivalent to X deaths at typical ages’ and that it should not be presented as the number of individuals whose length of life has been shortened by air pollution, as this would be true only if air pollution were the sole cause of death.

More detailed guidance on how to obtain and handle the data required to calculate local mortality burdens associated with particulate air pollution is due to be produced by the Health Protection Agency.

The COMEAP guidance says: “We have recommended methods for use in estimating the local mortality burdens of long-term exposure to particulate air pollution (as PM2.5). We consider that these recommendations strike an appropriate balance between the simplicity of undertaking the calculations (both in terms of applying the method and the ease of access to the data required) and the likely accuracy of the resulting estimates.”

COMEAP adds that looking forward, the production of estimates of local mortality burden for the whole of the UK at a local authority level “may be a cost-effective approach to this area of work. Alternatively, local authorities may consider working together to undertake or commission calculations of burden estimates.”

Related Links

COMEAP guidance