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UK Air Quality is improving but there’s a long way to go

UK Air Quality is improving but there’s a long way to go

A new long-term study, released yesterday, has shown that early deaths linked to poor air quality in the UK fell by half between 1970 and 2010. The improvement is largely attributed to legislation which led to the cleaning up of power stations and vehicles. 

However the crisis is far from over. Toxic air is today still the number one environmental health hazard, with one in 20 deaths attributable to small particle pollution. The authors of the study say urgent action is needed to deal with the public health emergency, which they likened to causing harm comparable to alcohol. Ammonia from farms and roadside NO2 emissions are now the top pollutants to tackle. 

“The message is that air quality policies work, but at the same time the current burden of air pollution on health is still very, very substantial,” said Sotiris Vardoulakis of the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, one of the research team. “It is a public health emergency and we need to do something about that.”

Understanding of the health impacts of dirty air is increasing all the time, with scientists now fearing that it affects every organ in the human body and impacts mental capacity. It’s crucial that the public understand that whilst these results are encouraging, the battle is not yet won.

Vardoulakis commented that encouraging and enabling more active and sustainable travel would make a big difference, and bring additional benefits. “These improve physical and mental health, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions” that are driving the climate crisis.

The study, which also involved the Universities of Oxford, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Exeter, was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). It has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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