British Heart Foundation brands air pollution 'a public health emergency'
People living in areas of the South West of England worst affected by air pollution have an increased risk of death that is the equivalent to smoking around 120 cigarettes a year, a leading charity has warned.
The new analysis of data by the BHF highlights that Swindon has the highest average daily level of air pollution out of all local authorities in the South West of England. People living in Swindon have an increased risk of death that is on average equivalent to smoking 122 cigarettes a year.
This is followed by Gloucester, South Gloucestershire, Bristol and Bournemouth where, in each local authority, people have an increased risk of death that is on average equivalent to smoking 114 cigarettes a year.
The new figures come as the BHF urges the next UK government to urgently adopt into law tougher World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution limits.
The UK currently subscribes to EU limits on levels of fine particulate matter called PM2.5, which are not as stringent as those set by the WHO. This fine particulate matter is the most dangerous kind of air pollution, finding its way into the circulatory system when inhaled.
BHF research has shown that PM2.5 can have a seriously detrimental effect to heart health, making existing conditions worse, and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Every year around 1,000 coronary heart disease and stroke deaths in the South West of England are attributed to particulate matter air pollution.
In July 2019, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) published findings which found that implementing WHO guidelines on air pollution is "technically feasible".
Jacob West, Executive Director of Healthcare Innovation at the British Heart Foundation said:
"Air pollution is a major public health emergency and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves. Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame.
"As these figures show, the effect of air pollution on our heart and circulatory system is profound, and we have no choice over the air we breathe in the places we live. Legislation was passed over a decade ago to protect people from passive smoke, and similarly decisive must be taken to protect people from air pollution."
"The last government accepted that it is possible to implement tougher WHO air pollution limits, and the next government must now do so protect the health of the nation."
Before parliament was dissolved for the general election, the government introduced the Environment Bill, which set out a commitment to binding targets for fine particulate matter, but did not commit to adopting World Health Organization guideline limits.
The BHF says such a commitment is a crucial step in protecting the nation's heart health. Binding 2030 targets, set in law, will ensure effective action to reduce air pollution and the risk it poses to the nation's heart and circulatory health.