Invisible Dust

London | Monday 21 May
Pollution level: Moderate

Pollution is prematurely killing 13,000 people a year in Britain


A major study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has concluded air pollution is prematurely killing 13,000 people a year in Britain.

Of these, cars and lorries are thought to be responsible for 7,000 deaths, aviation almost 2,000, power plants 1,700 with the rest coming from shipping, factories and domestic emissions.

The report calculated that about 60% of the polluted air breathed by Britons comes from domestic sources, the rest coming from air crossing the channel from mainland Europe.

The researchers estimated for the first time that air polluted outside Britain may kill 6,000 people a year prematurely, but dirty British air drifting the other way is killing 3,100 people a year in mainland Europe.

Considering the recently released report, it is worth noting that the majority of pollution in Britain is created internally as opposed to the belief of inheriting pollution from neighboring countries.

“One-third of premature mortalities in the UK caused by combustion emissions are due to emissions from other EU member states, and UK combustion emissions cause one third again as many early deaths in the rest of the EU as they do in the UK,” says the report.

The findings also pinpointed where most of the deaths happen: 2,200 a year in Greater London, 630 in both Greater Manchester and West Midlands and more than 1,000 across all Yorkshire and Humberside.

The study is embarrassing for the government, which is coming under the international spotlight this summer ahead of the Olympics and the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

Air pollution in London hit record levels last month in the heatwave and Britain already faces EU fines for consistently breaching air pollution laws.

Britain has some of the worst air pollution in Europe, but has consistently failed to meet targets and timetables to reduce both the quantity of soot in the London air (known as PM10s) and of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a gas emitted mainly from burning diesel fuel. Faced with draconian European fines, it has argued successfully in Europe that it needs more time to meet deadlines.

The authors proposed that car makers reduce the amount of black carbon emitted in car exhausts and try to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, but say that investment in public transport, or taking cars off the road altogether – as suggested by Green party mayoral candidate Jenny Jones – would be most effective. They used data provided by the British government for 2005 and simulated temperature and wind fields using a weather research and forecasting model similar to those used to predict short-term weather.

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