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Mayor promises action after worrying London air pollution study

Sadiq Khan pledges to take action as study links air pollution and inequality 

Londoners living in some of the capital’s most deprived boroughs are up to twice as likely to be affected by respiratory diseases than those who live in more affluent parts of the capital, figures published today (6 June) suggest.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said the statistics, published as part of a wider study on lung health from the British Lung Foundation, show the need for more urgent action to improve the capital’s air quality, which currently fails to meet the legal requirements for pollutants.

The Mayor has said urgent action is needed to improve the capital's air quality

The Mayor has said urgent action is needed to improve the capital’s air quality

According to the new figures, residents of Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham and Newham are up to twice as likely to suffer from lung cancer and other lung diseases than those who live just a few miles away in some of London’s most well-off boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and Barnet.

Commenting on the figures, the Mayor, said: “This deeply concerning report shines a light on the huge health inequalities in London as well as how poor air quality is a ticking time-bomb for our health, particularly for Londoners in the most deprived parts of the city.

“I am determined to get to grips with health inequalities in harder-to-reach groups and in London’s most vulnerable communities – something the previous Mayor dismally failed to do. One of the best ways to do this is to tackle London’s dangerously polluted air and make sure that breathing clean air is a right, not a privilege.”

Pollution

Estimates suggest that up to 10,000 deaths in London each year can be linked to air pollution. London does not currently meet the legal requirements for pollutants such as Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and research published by the World Health Organisation last month showed that London has breached safe levels of pollutant particles known as PM10.

According to the British Lung Foundation, the average prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has increased by a third across London between 2004 to 2013, rising from 1,443 cases per 100,000 people to 1,925 cases.

And, while it acknowledges a prevalence of respiratory illnesses in poorer boroughs, authors of the study note that the figures have been adjusted to take into account the relative age and sex of each of the boroughs – although factors such as socioeconomic status and ethnic composition were not taken into account.

Action

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “It’s a worry for everyone, making existing lung problems worse, increasing our risk of lung cancer and early death. We must all play a part in reducing harmful pollution. We are pleased to see that the Mayor is taking action to reduce pollution in London.”

Last month it was revealed that the previous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, had failed to publish a major report demonstrating that 433 schools in the capital are located in areas that exceed EU limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution – and four-fifths of those are in deprived areas.

Sadiq Khan has announced plans to implement new measures to clean up London’s air and will launch a formal policy consultation in weeks.

The proposals in the consultation will include the extension of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), a higher charge for the most polluting vehicles entering central London and the start of an investigation into the costs and challenges of implementing a diesel scrappage scheme (see airqualitynews.com story).

Related Links

British Lung Foundation study 

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CaresAboutHealth
CaresAboutHealth
5 years ago

Gary Fuller’s research paper[1] states: The annual mean concentration of PM10 from wood burning (1.1 μg/ m3) in London is more than 6 times greater than the city-wide reduction of 0.17 μg/m3 predicted from the first two phases of the London Low Emission Zone to reduce PM from traffic. The UN Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization recommended phasing out log-burning stoves in developed countries to reduce global warming as well as dangerous air pollution.

Revised figures for the whole of the UK show domestic wood burning to be the UK’s largest single source of PM2.5 emissions, 2.4 times greater than all PM2.5 emissions from traffic[2]. The European Environment Agency estimates that PM2.5 caused 37,800 premature deaths in the UK in 2012 (420,800 lost years of life), compared to 14,100 premature deaths from NO2 pollution (156,900 lost years of life).

Reducing PM2.5 pollution is at least as important as reducing NOx pollution. Given the dual benefits of better health and reduced global warming, why isn’t more attention being paid to the emissions of the small number of households that burn wood. As well as being one of the most cost effective ways to reduce the health damage from current unacceptably high levels of PM2.5 pollution, it could perhaps serve as a model for the rest of the country.

1. “Contribution of wood burning to PM10 in London” (Atmospheric Environment, 2014)
2. See http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h2757/rr-1 for references