Air pollution takes six months off your life, international experts find

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The Independent Online

Air pollution is shortening the lives of Britons by more than six months, a startling unpublished European Commission report reveals.

Air pollution is shortening the lives of Britons by more than six months, a startling unpublished European Commission report reveals.

The draft report, which will be presented to EU experts tomorrow, shows that more than 32,000 people die from breathing contaminated air in Britain each year, far more than had been thought.

This means that the toll from the pollution, much of which comes from cars, is more than nine times greater than the number of deaths from road accidents.

Yesterday, Tim Yeo, the shadow environment minister, called the results a "jolt" and called on the Government to consider them "very urgently indeed". The report, which has been sent to governments, industries and pressure groups, is the first attempt to work out the toll of the pollution throughout Europe.

In all, it concludes, about 310,000 Europeans die from air pollution each year. More than 90 per cent of the toll comes from tiny particulates that cause heart failure. They are emitted by traffic (particularly diesel engines), industry and domestic heating. The other deaths are due to respiratory diseases caused by ozone, produced when sunlight reacts with pollutants emitted by vehicle exhausts.

Across Europe, the report adds, life expectancy is reduced by 8.7 months as a result of breathing in pollution. Britain does better than most countries, with an average of 6.7 months of life lost.

Germany has the most deaths, more than 65,000 a year, followed by Italy at 39,000, with France third and Britain fourth. Luxembourg, with its small population, has the least, at 282 a year, followed by Estonia, with 456.

Lost life expectancy is worst in Belgium, where on average people lose 13.6 months of life, and the Netherlands, at 12.7 months. The Finns are the least affected, losing just 3.1 months on average, followed by the Irish at 3.9 months.

Previous estimates - by a government committee - suggested that someone living in London would lose only three weeks of life as a result of breathing polluted air, while the highest previous estimate for the number of deaths stood at 24,000.

Yesterday Mr Yeo said: "I think we have all been guilty of some complacency about air pollution, and these conclusions come as a jolt."

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