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Monday, January 27, 2020

Another threat to health

The Guardian reports on a new study which has found that more than one in 19 deaths in Britain’s largest towns and cities are linked to air pollution – with people living in urban areas in south-east England more likely to die from exposure to toxic air.

The study found that London, Slough, Chatham, Luton and Portsmouth had the highest proportion of deaths attributable to pollution, with around one in 16 in 2017 caused by high levels of harmful particulates in the atmosphere:

By contrast, places such as Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Blackpool attributed one in 30 deaths to air pollution, highlighting what the study’s authors, the Centre for Cities thinktank, called a “south-north” divide in air quality.

Although air pollution was a problem in most big cities and urban areas of the UK, it was especially heavily concentrated in the south-east, including places like Southampton, Reading, Oxford, Cambridge, Basildon and Northampton.

Air pollution was the UK’s largest environmental risk to public health, it said, producing the equivalent of 40,000 deaths a year nationally. It urged the government to introduce stricter legal guidelines on particulate matter emissions to help tackle the problem.

It also urged local authorities to raise their game on cutting air pollution. Practical local policies aimed at cutting pollution were slow or absent, in contrast to the enthusiasm with which many councils have made political declarations of climate emergency.

“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,” said Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities.

The need for local action is especially apposite. A number of councils, including Swansea, have declared a climate emergency. This issue is equally as important and needs the same sort of attention. Yes, we need to save the planet in the long term, but we also need to make it fit to live in now.
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