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28 August 2018

UK air pollution could cause 36,000 deaths a year

Will Richard, Communications & Engagement Officer

A new report led by King’s and published by the government estimates that between 28,000 and 36,000 people die as a result of air pollution every year in the UK.

780x440 car exhaust

new report led by King’s and published by the government's Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) estimates that between 28,000 and 36,000 people die as a result of air pollution every year in the UK. This is a significant increase on their 2015 figure of about 29,000.

The committee, chaired by Professor Frank Kelly, School of Population Health & Environmental Sciences, looked primarily at nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate pollution which are produced when petrol or other fuels are burnt. They highlighted that although this was the focus of their analysis, estimates of the number of deaths would inevitably include the effects of other pollutants that occur simultaneously such as ultrafine particles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds.

Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can exacerbate respiratory conditions and has been associated with a range of other health problems. Young children and older adults are particularly vulnerable.

COMEAP’s report proposes that reducing the amount of traffic pollutants in the air we breathe* would save the UK population about 1.6 million life years over the next 106 years: equivalent to an increase of life expectancy at birth of eight days each.

* calculated as a reduction in pollutant concentration of 1 microgram per metre3

COMEAP’s latest report sought to gain a better understanding of the links between nitrogen dioxide and health and potentially provide a more complete overall picture of the health impact of air pollution. In London, the ERG has been highlighting the nitrogen dioxide problem for some time now and as increased control measures are introduced to deal with the issue we are undertaking studies to help monitor the benefit of decreased emissions and improved air quality on health.

Professor Kelly, COMEAP Chairman and Director of King’s Environmental Research Group (ERG)