Global death toll of air pollution revealed

20 October 2017        

Category: BHF Comment

The UK’s illegal levels of air pollution contributed to the deaths of 50,000 people in 2015 – the majority of which were from heart and circulatory conditions - according to a new study published today.  The research, carried out by the Lancet Commission on Population Health, reveals that the UK has one of the worst records in Europe for the number of deaths caused by air pollution. 

Heavy traffic in Bristol causing air pollution

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Nearly one in ten (8.39%) deaths were connected to pollution in the UK, a higher proportion than in many other European countries including Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.

The study found that globally, air pollution accounts for 6.5 million deaths, while all pollution contributes to 9 million deaths worldwide. 

The UK’s illegal levels of air pollution

The UK is currently in breach of legal limits for nitrogen dioxide or NO2. However, our research suggests that particulate matter, especially the smallest particles - known as ultrafine particles and PM2.5 - is even more harmful to heart health. 

A recent report by the European Environment Agency found that an estimated 82-85% of Europe’s urban population were exposed to PM2.5 concentrations that exceeded the WHO’s limit. 

We are calling for the Government to introduce WHO limits for particulate matter concentrations, as these have been determined based on the safest levels of exposure for health.

Commitment from all levels of Government

Our Chief Executive, Simon Gillespie, said: “These figures are a stark reminder of the deadly toll air pollution is having worldwide. Globally, we know an estimated 80 per cent 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.”

A step in the right direction 

On Monday, the London Mayor will introduce a new daily Toxicity charge or ‘T-charge’ in central London to reduce fumes from polluting vehicles. The charge will affect thousands of vehicles every week day that don’t meet the minimum exhaust emission standard, roughly those vehicles that were registered pre-2006. 

A recent BHF poll found that over 70% of Londoners support the daily charge of £10 which will operate on top of the congestion charge.

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health was a two-year project involving more than 40 international researchers looking at pollution effects around the world in 2015.

Read more about air pollution and your heart