Air pollution kills five people in Bristol each week, study shows

Toxic air contributes to health conditions such as asthma, cancer and stroke, say experts

This is an edited version of an article first published by The Guardian

Five people die each week in Bristol as a result of high levels of air pollution, a study has revealed.

Researchers at King’s College London examined the combined impact of PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometres) which mainly comes from domestic wood and coal burning, industrial combustion and nitrogen dioxide poured out by older, polluting vehicles.

The scientists calculated that the fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide that pollute Bristol’s air cause about 260 people to die annually. These pollutants could cause up to 36,000 deaths across the UK each year and also contribute to several health conditions including asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

This is the first time that new government guidance on the ‘mortality burdens’ of air pollution, developed by a government advisory committee, have been applied to the largest city in the south-west. Bristol had higher levels of PM2.5 pollution than Liverpool or Greater Manchester, the study found, but a lower death rate – partly because it is less densely populated.

The research, commissioned by UK 100, revealed that a child born in 2011 could die up to six months early if exposed over their lifetime to air pollution in the city.

The study was published as the Bristol mayor is due to host an air pollution summit and found that the annual cost of the health impact of air pollution in Bristol was up to £170m a year. This month the city announced radical plans to address air pollution, including a proposal to ban diesel cars from central areas between 7am and 3pm from 2021. The plans are subject to government approval and consultation with residents and businesses.

Public Health England, in a 2018 report, assessed that the total national cost to the NHS and social care budgets of air pollution could be up to £5.56bn for PM2.5 and NO2 combined.

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“We have a moral, ecological and legal duty to clean up the air we breathe. This research emphasises how vital it is that we act quickly to improve health and save lives in Bristol,” Marvin Rees, the Bristol mayor, said, while David Dajnak, the principal air-quality scientist in the environmental research group at King’s College London, commented, “This report shows that more needs to be done to address the level of threat air pollution poses to health in Bristol.

“It highlights that the highest level of air pollution in Bristol coincides with zones of exceptional population growth and areas having the highest black and minority ethnic population.”

Bristol is one of several areas in the UK with illegal levels of air pollution. The most recent government data submitted to the EU revealed that 83% of reporting zones in the UK had illegal levels.

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