MORE than one in 19 deaths in UK towns and cities is linked to air pollution — with the proportion even higher for parts of the south, a charity warns.
People living in urban areas are 25 times more likely to die of long-term exposure to pollution than a car crash, according to the Centre for Cities.
They are at risk from Particulate Matter (PM2.5), a toxic mix of dust, ash and soot that the Department for Environment admits is likely to have ‘adverse effects’ even in small doses.
The threat is worst in London and south-eastern towns including Luton and Slough, with PM2.5 linked to about one in 16 deaths in these areas.
Cities in Scotland and northern England have the lowest rates, with Aberdeen recording just one in 33.
Zak Bond, of the British Lung Foundation, said breathing toxic air can lead to a range of health conditions including lung disease, stroke and cancer.
He said it was ‘particularly dangerous’ for 12million people in the UK with lung conditions. ‘In children, it can cause irreversible damage to their developing lungs,’ he warned. Centre for Cities, which advises the government on urban policies, wants stricter rules to curb fumes.
It says the government’s Clean Air Fund should be tripled to £660million, with more low-emission zones in city centres and stoves burning wood or coal being banned in polluted areas.
The charity’s chief executive Andrew Carter said: ‘Politicians often talk tough on addressing air pollution but we need to see more action.’
The Department for Environment said its clean air strategy had been praised by the WHO and it was ‘investing £3.5billion to tackle air pollution from transport’. It added the Environment Bill ‘will include a commitment to a legally binding target on fine particulate matter which will improve the health of millions of people’.