UK cities have dangerous levels of air pollution

31 October 2017        

Category: Research

The seaside town of Eastbourne has air pollution levels that are just as harmful to health as London, according to a new report on air quality in cities and towns across the UK.

Hazy London Skyline

Glasgow topped the list, with London just behind, but the findings show that millions of people across the UK are inhaling air that is considered too dangerous to breathe by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Of 51 cities and towns studied, 44 exceeded the WHO's guidelines for levels of particles smaller than 2.5 microns. The cities of Southampton and Leeds were also found to match London’s air for levels of these harmful particles, while Cardiff, Birmingham and Oxford followed closely behind.

The WHO guidelines state that levels of these small particles, known as PM2.5, should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air. But Glasgow recorded levels of 16 micrograms, while London recorded levels of 15 micrograms per cubic metre.

Air pollution a global problem

Globally, an estimated 80 per cent of premature deaths from air pollution are caused by heart disease and stroke.

Simon Gillespie, our Chief Executive, said: “Tiny particles of air pollution, known as PM2.5, are harmful to health, and particularly damaging for your heart and circulatory system. Our research has shown that even short-term exposure to high levels of these harmful particles can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. To protect the nation’s heart health, we want to see the Government introduce WHO air quality guidelines into UK law”

Dr Toby Hillman, one of the report's authors from the Royal College of Physicians, said: “There isn't a safe limit for the amount of pollution that's been defined as yet and we know the effects of poor air quality run from cradle to grave; it's a lifetime threat to human health. This is a really direct and tangible impact on UK health from the drivers of climate change, and taking action on air quality should be a priority.”

Heart health at risk

The BHF has funded substantial research showing that both long-term and short-term exposure to air pollution can make existing heart conditions worse, and can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, particularly among the most vulnerable in society. The association between air pollution and cardiovascular disease is strongest for exposure to PM2.5 and ultrafine particles, many of which come from diesel vehicle exhausts.