The British Heart Foundation has called for urgent action to address the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution, following the release of a major report outlining the global impact of pollution on health.
On Friday (20 October), the Lancet Commission on pollution published a report suggesting that outdoor and indoor air pollution, water and soil contamination and chemical pollutants are among the largest risk factors for premature death faced by populations globally.
According to the report, pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths.
Of these, around 6.5 million were thought to be linked to air pollution, with an estimated 50,000 deaths in the UK in 2015 having some connection to air quality, the Lancet report claimed.
Responding to the findings of the report, Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation said that the figures presented a ‘stark reminder’ of the impacts of air pollution on human health, and called for ‘commitment’ from government for measures such as Clean Air Zones to remove older, polluting vehicles from city streets.
He said: “These figures are a stark reminder of the deadly toll air pollution is having worldwide. Globally, we know an estimated 80% of premature deaths from air pollution are caused by heart disease and stroke.
“In the UK we need to play our part in tackling this global problem. Alongside funding research to better understand how air pollution damages our heart health, we urgently need commitment from all levels of government to improve the nation’s air quality, including through the creation of clean air zones.
“This report is also right to highlight the unequal impact of air pollution on people within our society. In the UK, poor air quality disproportionately affects some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our communities, including the young, elderly and those with existing cardiovascular conditions. It’s time for change.”
In the summer, the UK government outlined its plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide levels in towns and cities across the country.
The UK Plan for tackling roadside NO2 concentrations identifies the local authority areas which are in breach of the legal limits and directs them to produce a plan for tackling the issue.
Critics of the proposals claim that the plan puts too much burden on local authorities to implement measures in their area.
Ministers have also promised a ‘comprehensive Clean Air Strategy’ in 2018, addressing air pollution from a wide range of sources (see airqualitynews.com story).
Responding to the findings of the report, a Defra spokesperson said: ”We have put in place a £3 billion plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions.
“We will also end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, and next year we will publish a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy which will set out further steps to tackle air pollution.
“We now have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit and improve environmental standards as we leave the EU.”