Graffiti in Tower Hamlets

Fatal lung conditions ‘more likely’ in deprived areas of London

ClientEarth is calling for the government to get its act together on air pollution after worrying new figures have revealed that Londoners living in the capital’s most deprived boroughs are up to twice as likely to die of lung cancer, asthma and other lung diseases than those who live in more affluent parts of the capital.

Andrea Lee, Healthy Air Campaigner for ClientEarth said:

“Air pollution is a public health crisis and this research provides further evidence that it is having a devastating effect on the health of those living in the most deprived areas of London. We all have a right to breathe clean air and the new Mayor is rightly proposing bold policies to clean up the city’s air. But the government needs to get its act together too. Instead of pushing for higher pollution limits in Brussels that would lead to thousands more early deaths, the government needs to show leadership in limiting emissions of harmful pollutants that will benefit all those living across the UK who are being made sick and dying early because of air pollution.”

The British Lung Foundation conducted a major study, called The Battle for Breath, into respiratory health and diseases across the UK, finding that these illnesses are responsible for about a fifth of deaths nationwide. Figures for London found that residents of deprived boroughs Tower Hamlets, Newham, and Barking and Dagenham were up to twice as likely to die from lung diseases than those in richer areas such as Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and Barnet.

The latest medical research indicates air pollution has a health impact equivalent to 9,000 early deaths each year. London does not currently meet the legal requirements for pollutants such as Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and new research published by the World Health Organisation last month showed that London has breached safe levels of pollutant particles known as PM10.

ClientEarth is taking the government back to court over illegal levels of air pollution in the UK’s towns and cities. As a result of the environmental law organisation’s Supreme Court win against the government in April last year, ministers were ordered to develop plans to bring pollution within legal limits as soon as possible. The plans, produced in December, will not do this.

While fighting legal battles to avoid taking effective action on air pollution at home, the government is also agitating for higher limits for key pollutants like ammonia in Brussels, despite the government’s own experts saying reducing ammonia is the best way to reduce harmful, ultra-fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ).

This post was updated on 21 December 2016 to better reflect research into the health impacts of air pollution. Air pollution and your health – what are the facts?

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Cory Doctorow