15 million people in the UK live in areas where fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exceeds the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline, according to a new report published by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
The charity analysed annual Defra estimates for PM2.5 in every UK local authority area and put them against the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) population estimates for the 75 UK local authorities which breached the WHO average in 2018.
The findings are included in the report, called We’re Full Of It – Progress Towards Cleaner Air and Why We Need To Do More, which aims to inform UK citizens on how damaging exposure to air pollution can be to the human heart.
For example, research has shown that exposure to diesel fumes can increase the risk of blood clots that lead to heart attacks, as well as a correlation between poor air quality and increased hospitalisation and deaths due to heart failure.
The report also puts pressure on the government, one year on from the publication of the Clean Air Strategy. The BHF says the nation’s health ‘cannot wait’ any longer and calls on the government to adopt the World Health Organisation (WHO) PM2.5 guideline into UK law.
The charity also says charging Clean Air Zones should be implemented in all areas that are in breach of the WHO guidelines, more should be spent on cycling and walking infrastructure and Public Health England should run a national public awareness campaign around air pollution.
Jacob West, director of Healthcare Innovation at the BHF, said: ‘This government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take brave political action in cleaning up our toxic air.
‘Tackling a public health emergency on this scale requires serious and sustained commitment. This could mean changes that might not be easy or convenient for organisations or individuals, but they will prove crucial to protecting people’s health.
‘You only have to look at past Clean Air Acts or more recently the smoking ban for examples of bold legislation that has improved the air we all breathe.
‘The uncomfortable truth is that UK heart and circulatory deaths attributed to air pollution could exceed 160,000 over the next decade unless we take radical steps now.’
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