Air pollution leads to premature deaths of more than 4,000 Londoners a year

1/7/2010 Guardian  Air pollution over London: Figures show that it is contributing to the premature deaths of more than 4,000 people in the capital.An estimated 4,267 Londoners are dying prematurely each year
because of long-term exposure to airborne pollution, it was revealed today.
Those living in inner-city areas breathe in the most polluted air, a detailed
breakdown of pollution levels in wards across the capital, published by the
London mayor, Boris Johnson, shows.
The study of the health impact of high levels of fine particulate matter of a
concentration level known as PM2.5 on mortality rates in the capital prompted
calls for Johnson to introduce “urgent targeted measures” to address the city’s
poor air quality, which is the worst in the UK and among the worst in European
Airborne pollution in the form of fine particulate matter emanates mostly from
combustion sources, including transport, domestic and industrial sources, and
aggravates respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. PM2.5 refers to particles
of less than 2.5 micrometres.
Research shows these particles are likely to be inhaled deep into the
respiratory tract and have a disproportionate impact on children due to their
smaller lung capacity.
Poor air quality is considered to be one of the biggest public health issues now
facing the UK. A report by the House of Commons environmental audit committee
included evidence that showed pollution could be contributing to 50,000 deaths
in the UK each year.
The mortality impact study, by the Institute of Occupational Medicine, arranged
the concentration of fine particular matter per cubic metre into a table.
The ten areas with the highest concentration of particles are close to main
roads, including Marylebone High Street, the City of London, Hyde Park, and
King’s Cross.
However, the low density of residents living in these areas means the number of
premature deaths is fewer there than in other areas with lower levels of
airborne pollution but higher population levels.
The most polluted was Bryanston and Dorset squares, both in Westminster.
A provisional analysis by the Campaign for Clean Air in London (CCAL) of the
report shows that the boroughs with the highest number of premature deaths
attributed to airborne pollution are in outer London. Bromley ranks highest,
followed by Croydon, Barnet, and Havering.
The worst boroughs for concentration levels of fine particulate matter PM2.5
include the City, Westminster, Camden, Kensington and Chelsea, Tower Hamlets and
Islington, with many of the outer boroughs ranking at the bottom.
Simon Birkett, from CCAL, said: “This report paints a shocking picture of the
Olympic city. [It] makes clear the worst air quality and greatest legal breaches
occur in inner London and near our busiest roads.
“For the first time,though, it shows that air pollution is a problem throughout
London. It may therefore come as a surprise to some in outer London who thought
air pollution was not their problem. I urge people to see what the health study
shows for their local area.”
Johnson has been criticised over his decision to delay, by two years, the third
phase of the low emission zone – a key measure to reduce harmful emissions –
which had been due to come into force this October under the timetable set by
the previous mayor, Ken Livingstone.
The scheme currently targets buses, coaches and the most polluting lorries over
3.5 tonnes. Failure to meet the required emissions standards leads to a £200
daily charge, or a £1,000 daily fine if the charge is not paid.
Phase three of the scheme would affect 90,000 much smaller vehicles, including
vans and minibuses, with a daily £100 charge to be imposed on those that did not
meet the emissions standards.
Failure to pay would have incurred a £500 fine for each day the vans entered the
zone, which covers the Greater London area.
The consultation on delaying the low emission zone had originally been due to be
completed three days before the report on airborne pollution and mortality had
been published.
TfL has been forced to extend the consultation until 4 July because of a
technical glitch, but Birkett today called for extra time in light of the
report’s findings.
“TfL must extend that consultation by a further three weeks or more to allow
Londoners time to see this health study and object to the delay of this
important measure intended to protect people across London,” he said.
Johnson published today’s report eight months after he delivered the first draft
of his air quality strategy for the capital and six months after he first
revealed the figure of over 4,000 premature deaths in March.
London’s poor air quality has been a source of friction with the European
commission for some time.
Last week, monitoring equipment recorded dangerous levels of minute particles
for the 36th time this year. Under EU rules, Britain is allowed no more than 35
“bad air” days in a year.
Earlier this month, the government received a second and final written warning
from Europe to clean up London’s air or be taken to the European court of
justice and face fines of up to £300m for being in breach of air quality
The warning was issued before the commission had time to consider the UK
government’s latest submission to secure an extension until 2011 for meeting air
quality standards in order to avoid court action.
The submission, sent days before the general election, included London’s western
extension of the congestion charge, despite the fact that the traffic reducing
measure is scheduled to be scrapped subject to a public consultation.
Johnson is seeking to remove the western extension despite an admission by TfL
that its removal would lead to an increase in congestion and air pollutants in
the area.
Darren Johnson, a Green party London assembly member, said: “The detail of this
study makes clear the gradual and cumulative effects on Londoners’ health of
high levels of air pollution.
“Londoners really need this kind of information about the risks to their health
and I congratulate the mayor on its publication.
“However, it does highlight how inadequate the mayor’s plans are to reduce
pollution and the need for urgent targeted measures, such as an inner London low
emission zone.
“It is amazing that the mayor is still delaying key actions to improve things
and actually making things worse with some of his policies.”
Professor Frank Kelly, of Kings College London, last year told the London
assembly’s environment committee that the impact of poor air quality in effect
“mimics” many aspects of respiratory diseases.
Kelly cited studies in California and the Netherlands that suggest the elderly
and children were the most vulnerable to the public health consequences of poor
air quality.
A city hall spokeswoman said the mayor took the theoretical figures outlined in
the health impact report “extremely seriously”.
“That is why he is investing around £250m a year on sustainable long-term
measures to tackle air quality such as a cycling revolution, converting the bus
fleet to hybrid, increasing the use of zero-polluting electric vehicles and
introducing the new bus for London, which will be 40% less polluting than a
traditional diesel model,” she said.
Worst wards
1. Bryanston and Dorset Square 17.71 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre
2. Marylebone High Street 17.69
3. City of London 17.59
4. Bloomsbury 17.54
5. West End 17.41
6. St James’s 17.35
7. Hyde Park 17.28
8. King’s Cross 17.19
9. Holborn and Covent Garden 17.18
10. Brompton 16.78
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