Tory cars 'dogma' blamed for asthma

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THE GOVERNMENT'S failure to modernise public transport has led to a doubling of asthma cases in every health region, Labour claimed yesterday.

The Shadow environment minister, George Howarth, said the worst affected region, the West Midlands, had an increase of 186 per cent between 1979 and 1991. Car fumes and lack of public transport in towns had led to sharp increases in carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other key pollutants, he said.

'These figures show no region of England has escaped the effects of the refusal to modernise our public transport systems. Our children are paying the price of Tory dogma in increased incidence of asthma across the country.'

Mr Howarth called on the Government to set up a proper scientific study into the relationship between atmospheric pollution and asthma. 'I'm not talking about a two-year effort,' he added. 'The rise in asthma is too worrying for that. We need a short, sharp investigation to look at the evidence and take remedial steps.'

Government figures show asthma cases went up enormously in the London area over the period: in North West Thames region by 169 per cent; South West Thames by 164 per cent; South East Thames by 147 per cent and North East Thames by 129 per cent.

Labour's claims are in line with other studies which show that asthma, particularly among children, is increasing across the nation.

Doctors and environmentalists believe that a cocktail of toxic gases, particularly from car exhausts, is the main culprit. The scale of the problem was first highlighted by an Independent on Sunday investigation last year.

In summer heavy fumes in city and town centres cause photochemical smog while in winter the cold air concentrates the toxins, creating breathing difficulties for those with respiratory conditions.

Concern is also growing about the increase in diesel engines and green lobby groups claim the only way to slow down asthma cases is to cut car use.

Government measures to slow down road-building programmes would help to curb the problem, they claim.