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Poor suffer most from pollution

THERE ARE more than 130 times as many big polluting factories in the poorest parts of the country as in more prosperous areas, a survey will reveal tomorrow.

Painting a stark picture of two nations in exposure to industrial contamination, the report shows only five of the biggest and potentially most dangerous factories in England and Wales are in areas where the average household income tops pounds 30,000 a year - compared to 662 in places where the annual income is under pounds 15,000.

About three quarters of the most hazardous industrial processes are carried out in areas with below-average incomes, says the report, Pollution Injustice, to be published by Friends of the Earth. In London, 90 per cent of all the biggest polluting factories - and in the north east 80 per cent - are in such areas.

On Teesside, one small area - Seal Sands, where families have an average income of just pounds 6,200 a year - has 17 big factories.

The report says the 1,320 biggest polluting factories in England and Wales emit more than 10,000 tons of cancer-causing chemicals a year. "There is clear inequality in risk of exposure to a range of health threatening pollutants, [but] very little research has been done on their effects on poor people," says the report.

One study of 27 poor estates on Teesside showed a link between industrial emissions and deaths from lung cancer. And few of the poorest people enjoy economic benefit from the factories, for example, by being employed in them.

Charles Secrett, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said yesterday: "This study shows what we have suspected for a long time that environmental issues are about public health and social justice.

"It is those among the poorest in our society who have to put up with pollution on a daily basis."

The study is pioneering, because up to now environmental groups have paid little attention to how environmental degradation affects the poorest Britons.

Other, sparse, evidence shows that 86 per cent of those disabled by asthma, which is aggravated, if not caused, by air pollution, come from the three lowest social classes, and that children in poor parts of Bristol have twice as much lead in their blood as middle-class ones.

But neither environmentalists nor the Government have done much to address the link between pollution and poverty.