Survey suggests that MPs underestimate the health impact of air pollution, which causes 29,000 deaths a year in the UK
Members of Parliament rank air pollution as a lower risk to human health than smoking, obesity, alcoholism and road traffic accidents, according to a survey commissioned by campaign group Clean Air in London (CAL).
However, government estimates of the number of deaths attributable to different health risks in England show that air pollution is second only to smoking in terms of risk to human health.
As many as 29,000 premature deaths in England each year are attributable to air pollution, while almost 80,000 are caused by smoking. 15-20,000 are attributable to alcoholism, 9,000 caused by obesity and 1,901 by road traffic.
CAL founder and director Simon Birkett said the survey results “displayed a shocking level of ignorance about the health impact of air pollutionâ€? among MPs.
Green MEP for south east England, Keith Taylor, said the results were “disappointing, though unsurprisingâ€?.
In CAL’s ‘Parliamentary perceptions of air pollution’ survey carried out by political publishing house Dods Parliamentary Communications last month, 101 MPs – almost one in six of the total members – were interviewed online about their attitudes to air pollution as a contributory factor to premature death.
The MPs interviewed were weighted by party to reflect the political composition of the House of Commons, with 47 Conservative MPs, 40 Labour MPs, nine Liberal Democrat MPs and five MPs from other parties taking part.
Each member was asked to rank the risk factors – smoking, obesity, alcoholism, road traffic accidents and air pollution – from one to five by the number of premature deaths they thought were attributed to each (fifth denoting fifth rank).
According to the results, air pollution was ranked as the lowest risk factor with an average score among MPs of 4.3 out of 5. MPs on average saw smoking as the highest risk factor, followed by obesity, then alcoholism, then road traffic accidents.
Labour MPs were slightly more likely to see it as a problem than Conservatives or Liberal Democrats, but there was no party which saw it as a more important risk factor than any of the other factors, according to Dods.
The survey also found that MPs from London were neither more nor less likely to view air pollution as a problem as than those from other regions.
Commenting on the survey results, Green MEP Keith Taylor said: “It’s disappointing, though unsurprising, that MPs fail to recognise the serious health implications of air pollution. In fact, breathing polluted air has become second only to smoking in the health damage it causes.â€?
He added: “Of course there is no easy solution to cleaning up the air that we breathe. Politicians of all shades need to recognize that tough decisions need to be made. This means reducing the number of high-polluting vehicles in our town centres, investing in public transport and bringing about a huge shift towards walking and cycling. Though the health risks of air pollution aren’t yet being recognised on the same level as smoking or obesity there is no doubt that the issue is becoming increasingly talked about. For the good of their constituents MPs will have to join campaigners and health experts in taking the pollution in our air seriously.â€?
Simon Birkett, founder and director of Clean Air in London, said: “The vast majority of over 100 MPs responding to our survey displayed a shocking level of ignorance about the health impact of air pollution. In particular, over two-thirds of Conservative MPs responding said air pollution (29,000 attributable deaths) has less impact than road traffic accidents (1,900 deaths).
“It is vital people are warned about the dangers of air pollution and given advice about protecting themselves and reducing pollution for themselves and others.â€?
The results of the survey are available on the Clean Air Website.