People living in UK towns and cities are 25 times more likely to die from long-term exposure to poisonous air than a car crash, and those living in the south are at greatest risk, a charity has warned.
The charity is calling for the UK government to bring in stricter guidelines for pollution to bring it inline with the Scottish government.
Concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are greatest near industrial areas and cities, where toxic pollutants include combustion particles, ash, soot, dust and metals which, due to their tiny size, are not filtered by the nose or throat and can go deep into the lungs and even enter the circulatory system.
They can subsequently lead to heart attacks, respiratory disease, and premature death.
Inhalation of PM2.5 at any level is likely to cause “adverse effects”, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
But in the south of the country the picture is bleakest with one in 16 deaths attributable to poisonous air.
Meanwhile, cities in Scotland and northern England have the lowest proportion of PM2.5-related deaths.
Aberdeen is the city with the lowest pollution-related death rate at one in 33, followed by Dundee, Glasgow, Blackpool and Edinburgh, with similar levels.
More than 60 per cent of roads nationwide exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for toxic levels of air pollution.
Zak Bond of the British Lung Foundation said the charity is calling on the government to adopt the air pollution limits the WHO has advised countries to aim for by 2030.
Mr Bond said: “Whilst it’s shocking that more than one in 19 deaths in UK towns and cities can be linked to air pollution, it doesn’t tell the full story in terms of the millions of people whose lives are affected on a daily basis.
“Breathing in toxic air is bad for everyone and can lead to a wide range of health conditions including lung disease, stroke and cancer.
“It is particularly dangerous for the 12 million people in the UK living with lung conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, as it can make their symptoms flare up and lead to hospitalisation.
“In children, it can cause irreversible damage to their developing lungs.”
Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, also said the UK government should adopt the WHO’s stricter guidelines around PM2.5 emissions, as the Scottish government has.
Mr Carter said: “Politicians often talk tough on addressing air pollution but we need to see more action.
“Cities should be at the centre of the fight against toxic air and councils should take the steps needed, including charging people to drive in city centres and banning wood-burning stoves.
“To help, the government needs to provide extra money and introduce stricter guidelines.
“The deadly levels of polluted air we’re breathing are legal across most of the UK. This needs to change.”
Centre for Cities has also advised politicians to triple the size of the Clean Air Fund to £660m, introduce ultra-low emission zones in city centres, ban wood-burning stoves and coal fires in highly polluted areas, and provide financial incentives for cities to improve air quality.
The charity also wants the government to secure plans with the EU to tackle cross-border air pollution as a key component of the future relationship.
A total of 1,784 people were killed in reported road traffic accidents in Great Britain in 2018, and 1,793 deaths were reported in 2017, according to the RAC.
Between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year are attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution, according to the government.
Additional reporting by PA
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