Air Pollution KillsIt is tragic that 13 cyclists have died on London's roads so far this year. But did you know that air pollution kills nearly 13 people a day in the capital? It's long been known that air pollution causes 4,000 Londoners to die prematurely each year. Public Health England, the Department of Health and the Committee on the Medical Effects of Pollution have now shed new light on these figures. Focusing upon the health damage caused by PM2.5s (tiny particles of diameter 2.5 microns or less), they have worked out the percentage of deaths in different London boroughs that are caused by inhaling the particles deep into the lungs and bloodstream. In 15 out of 33 boroughs, mortality rates (based on data for 2011, just analysed) are up. This means that air quality in London is actually the worst in the UK and the capital is also one of the worst for air pollution in Europe.

The Borough of Hillingdon leads the shameful roll call, with the biggest increase in deaths – now standing at 6.86 per cent of all deaths in the local population. The City of London is the worst borough, with 8.94 per cent of all deaths being attributed to PM2.5 exposure. The City is followed, not surprisingly, by the central London boroughs of Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. Outside of London, Gateshead is the worst for air pollution-related deaths, with 4.18 per cent of deaths attributed to this cause (in fact this represents a decrease of 0.72 per cent over previous figures).

Most of the PM2.5s we are exposed to come from diesel exhausts. These tiny particles are coated with carcinogens from the fuel, so small wonder they are so harmful to health when inhaled, with those who have pre-existing heart disease and lung disease being particularly at risk. To clean up the capital's air, measures focused on reducing diesel emissions must be strengthened, as has been pointed out by Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London. Mr Birkett suggests the following specific measures:

  • catch up with Berlin, which banned the oldest diesel vehicles of all sorts from the most polluted places nearly four years ago and is expected to tighten its standard again in 2015;
  • give taxi drivers free choice so they are not forced to buy one or other of two large diesel vehicles and champion an incentive scheme to update the entire London taxi fleet by 2016;
  • fit filters to thousands not hundreds of London buses;
  • build a ‘fast charge’ electric network; and
  • outlaw the removal of factory-fitted diesel particulate filters which are poisoning our streets

For more information:

1. http://cleanairinlondon.org/health/national-list-of-shame-and-fame-for-air-pollution-deaths/#sthash.y1wdXPrO.dpuf

2. Launch of Clean Air in Cities Index™ (or Birkett Index ™) and App to report the health impact on the population of long-term exposure to air pollution at http://cleanairinlondon.org/health/clean-air-in-cities-index/#sthash.HVvw7ghD.dpuf