Britain air deadlier than in Mexico, Sweden

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Death rate due to air pollution in the UK is worse than in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, a World Health Organisation report reveals. Levels of PM10 and PM2.5 particulates in Britain are twice as high as in Sweden, the EU’s cleanest nation, and worse than Portugal, Ireland and Spain.

A face mask placed on the statue of Queen Victoria opposite Buckingham Palace to highlight air pollution.

GENEVA: More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) limits. While all regions of the world are affected, populations in low-income cities are the most impacted.

World Health Statistics 2017 report published on May 17 by WHO says that outdoor air pollution caused an estimated 3 million deaths worldwide, most of these in low-and middle-income countries.

For every 100,000 people, Britain has a mortality rate for air pollution of 25.7. Britain rated far behind Sweden, the cleanest nation in the EU, with a rate of 0.4. The US rate was 12.1 for every 100,000, Brazil’s was 15.8 and Mexico’s was 23.5, while Argentina was at 24.6.  The UK had an average of 12.4 micrograms of fine particulate pollutants (PM 2.5) for each cubic metre of air, which includes pollution from traffic, industry, oil and wood burning and power plants in urban areas. This is higher than the pollutant levels of 5.9 in Sweden, 9.9 in Spain and 12.6 in France. Germany had higher levels of particulate pollution than the UK at 14.4 and Poland’s was 25.4.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said the report confirmed that deaths from air pollution were higher in the UK than many other comparable countries. She said: “It is deeply tragic that around 3 million lives are cut short worldwide because the air we breathe is dirty and polluted. In the UK, air pollution is a public health crisis hitting our most vulnerable the hardest – our children, people with a lung condition and
the elderly.”

“Yet, we are in the fortunate position of having the technology and resources to fix this problem. It’s time to use what we have to sort this problem out as a matter of urgency and clean up our filthy, poisonous air. The next government needs to bring in a new Clean Air Act to protect the nation’s lung health.”

The worst countries for toxic air included India, where 133.7 deaths for every 100,000 people are attributed to air pollution, and Myanmar, where the rate was 230.6 deaths. WHO said: “Outdoor air pollution is a major environmental health problem affecting everyone in developed and developing countries alike. Some 72% of outdoor air pollution-related premature deaths were due to ischaemic heart disease and strokes, while 14% of deaths were due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or acute lower respiratory infections, and 14% of deaths were due to
lung cancer.”

The World Health Organisation said it was up to national and international policymakers to tackle the toxic air crisis, “Most sources of outdoor air pollution are well beyond the control of individuals and demand action by cities, as well as national and international policymakers in sectors like transport, energy, waste management, buildings and agriculture,” the WHO said recently.

Highlights

  • Air pollution is estimated to cause 40,000 deaths in the UK annually
  • Toxic emissions are responsible for an average of 25.7 deaths per 100,000 in UK
  • World Health Organisation said filthy air killed 6.5m people worldwide in 2012
  • Mortality rates in the UK are far higher than in many comparable countries in Europe