Over 2,000 GP practices and nearly 250 hospitals are in areas where levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exceed the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines.
That is according to the British Lung Foundation, which has today (25 October) detailed the findings of analysis carried out in partnership with Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants (CERC), and is calling for tougher standards on the pollutant to protect public health.
At present, the law requires average yearly levels of PM2.5 to stay below 25μg/m3. But, according to the World Health Organization, exposure to average annual levels of more than 10μg/m3 can be harmful to human health.
The pollutant can be produced from a range of sources, including the combustion of solid fuels, industrial processes, agriculture and road transport – and has been linked to health impacts including asthma, heart disease and lung cancer.
In the report published today, British Lung Foundation and CERC used predictions for annual average background levels of PM2.5 for 2018, and assessed this based on the location of 9,988 health centres in England, Scotland and Wales.
The assessment suggested that one in three GP surgeries and one in four hospitals in England are in areas that will be likely exceed the WHO recommended limit, while 54 GP practices and three hospitals in Wales are also likely to exceed the limit. In Scotland, three health care sites have been identified as exceeding the WHO’s limit, the report suggests.
In its report, British Lung Foundation wrote: “Millions of people visit these hospitals, clinics, and GP surgeries every year, and some of them need ongoing hospital treatment, and may have to stay in hospital for several days.
“It is unacceptable that hospital staff and GPs have to care for children, people with heart and lung problems, and elderly patients, in environments that could aggravate existing conditions and significantly worsen acute illnesses. Like passive smoking, most of us have very little choice about the levels of toxins in the air we are breathing.”
As a result of the findings the charity is calling for the adoption of the WHO’s 10μg/m3 into UK law as a part of the government’s Environment Bill – which will set out government’s long term framework for environmental laws post-Brexit.
Within its Clean Air Strategy, published this summer, the government committed to meeting the 2020 and 2030 emissions ceilings for pollutants set out in the National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NECD) – including PM2.5 – which it claimed would halve the number of people living in locations where concentrations of particulate matter are above the WHO guideline (see airqualitynews.com story).
However, British Lung Foundation is calling for additional safeguards the ensure that these lower limits are enshrined in law.
Additionally, the charity has called for greater investment in air quality monitoring at hospitals and health centres.
The report concludes: “The evidence couldn’t be clearer that air pollution is a clear and present danger to our health, and an immediate risk to the health of the most vulnerable.
“This analysis reaffirms the need for strong and ambitious policies at local and national levels that are enforced to protect us all from what is the biggest environmental threat to public health.”
Commenting on the findings of the report, Zak Bond, public affairs and policy coordinator at the walking charity, Living Streets, said: “It is deeply alarming that patients’ health is being put at risk by toxic air outside GP clinics and hospitals.
“We need to reduce traffic in our towns and cities to tackle dirty air. Evidence shows that introducing charging Clean Air Zones is the most effective way to do this in the shortest possible time. We would want to see all revenue generated from charging clean air zones invested in active travel, enabling people to walk or cycle more of their everyday journeys.
“Investment in safe walking routes and cycling infrastructure would transform our towns and cities into places where people can enjoy living healthy and active lives – able to visit a doctor without being subjected to toxic air.”