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40,000 deaths annually due to air pollution

Health impact costs UK £20bn per year

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Each year around 40,000 deaths in the UK are attributable to air pollution, experts say.

‘Every breath we take: the impact of air pollution,’ published today by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPH), finds the health problems arising from exposure to air pollution add up to more than £20 billion in costs every year. 

The report links outdoor air pollution to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia.

In addition, today’s document, also highlights indoor pollutants, such as kitchen products, faulty boilers, open fires, fly spays and air fresheners. 

As a result, the report offers a number of major reform proposals. These include:

  • Put the onus on polluters. Polluters must be required to take responsibility for harming our health. Political leaders at a local, national and EU level must introduce tougher regulations, including reliable emissions testing for cars.
  • Local authorities need to act to protect public health when air pollution levels are high. When these limits are exceeded, local authorities must have the power to close or divert roads to reduce the volume of traffic, especially near schools.
  • Monitor air pollution effectively. Air pollution monitoring by central and local government must track exposure to harmful pollutants in major urban areas and near schools. These results should then be communicated proactively to the public in a clear way that everyone can understand.
  • Quantify the relationship between indoor air pollution and health. We must strengthen our understanding of the key risk factors and effects of poor air quality in our homes, schools and workplaces. A coordinated effort is required to develop and apply any necessary policy changes.    
  • Define the economic impact of air pollution. Air pollution damages not only our physical health, but also our economic wellbeing. We need further research into the economic benefits of well-designed policies to tackle it.
  • Lead by example within the NHS. The health service must no longer be a major polluter; it must lead by example and set the benchmark for clean air and safe workplaces.

The report has been welcomed by health professionals.

Amanda Cheesley, Professional Lead for Long Term Conditions and End of Life Care at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The UK needs to make a concerted effort to reduce air pollution as part of its overall ambition to improve the health of all of its residents. Failing to tackle this problem will lead to premature deaths, pain and misery for many, and a health system which simply cannot cope with an ageing population with multiple, complex conditions.

“There is a moral imperative to act now to prevent this and to make sure future generations breathe better air than this one.”

Matthew Hodson, Chair of the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists, said: “ARNS welcomes this reports that highlights the impact of poor air quality and the effects of lifelong impact on health. I have seen examples of where people living with conditions such Asthma and COPD have been affected by the current quality of air exacerbating symptoms and affecting quality of life.”

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