Air Clean Up

  • Air Pollution Deaths Could Total 160,000 in 2020s

Air Pollution Deaths Could Total 160,000 in 2020s

Feb 27 2020 Read 336 Times

Over 160,000 Britons could suffer premature death as a direct result of exposure to air pollution by the end of the decade, according to a new report published by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The most common causes of death linked to poor air quality are heart and attacks and strokes, with the BHF estimating that roughly 40 people per day will die from them due to inhalation of contaminants.

The report, which was published last month, highlighted that at present, around 11,000 people are killed in the UK from poor air quality. However, its authors predicted that figure would rise over the coming years as the population of the country continues to age, resulting in a final estimate of more than 160,000 individuals. In response, the BHF is calling for the government to implement more stringent air quality standards, such as those recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Status quo doesn’t go far enough

At present, the UK is bound to abide by concentration limits of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) set by the EU. These stand at an annual average of 25μg/m3, and while the UK has repeatedly fallen afoul of some air quality standards set by Brussels, it comfortably meets those ones. However, concerned parties – including the BHF – are worried that those targets are not stringent enough.

Indeed, the threshold deemed as “safe” by the WHO is far lower at just 10μg/m3 and the UK is currently some way off adhering to that kind of standard. With the ink still fresh on the final Brexit negotiations, now is seen as the perfect time for the UK to switch its allegiance to WHO recommendations over EU ones and drastically improve its air quality in the process.

PM2.5 in the crosshairs

PM2.5 is often highlighted as one of the most dangerous contaminants due to its microscopic size. It is thus named due to the fact that individual particles are less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, which is more than 30 times thinner than a human hair. As a result, PM2.5 can be easily inhaled into the lungs and can even infiltrate the bloodstream, bringing about all manner of coronary and cardiovascular complications.

Fortunately, our ability to measure air quality through particulate matter sensing has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, meaning we’re better equipped than ever to understand the exact pollution of the air we breathe. This greater awareness has prompted environmentalists and concerned citizens to campaign for the government to introduce concrete measures aimed at cleaning up the problem.

DEFRA on the defence

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs maintains that it already employs pioneering measures for monitoring outdoor concentrations of black carbon and PM and that it plans to introduce further initiatives in the near future. Tellingly, DEFRA published a report last year which claimed that adherence to WHO limits on PM2.5 could be achievable as early as 2030, but it remains to be seen whether they will appear in the forthcoming Environment Bill.

“We all know the impact that air pollution has on communities around the UK, which is why the government is stepping up the pace and taking urgent action to improve air quality, remarked Environment Secretary Rebecca Pow. “Alongside our Clean Air Strategy, which has been praised by the World Health Organisation as ‘an example for the rest of the world to follow’, our landmark Environment Bill will include a commitment to a legally binding target on fine particulate matter which will improve the quality of millions of people’s lives.”

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