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Thousands dying early every year 'because of London's filthy air'

Published 15/07/2015

Pollution over London, as research revealed for the first time the impacts of nitrogen dioxide on mortality in the capital
Pollution over London, as research revealed for the first time the impacts of nitrogen dioxide on mortality in the capital

Air pollution caused the early deaths of almost 9,500 people in London in 2010, according to a new study, showing far greater problems than previously estimated.

The research by King's College London has revealed for the first time the impacts of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which comes from exhaust fumes and other burning of fossil fuels, on mortality in London.

In 2010, there were 3,537 premature deaths due to particles known as particulate matter (PM2.5) and 5,879 early deaths in the capital as a result of nitrogen dioxide, bringing the total to 9,416, the study for Transport for London and the Greater London Authority showed.

The economic costs of the air pollution were estimated to be as much as £3.7 billion.

The study also revealed that particulate matter led to the loss of 52,630 years of life among Londoners, due to causing premature deaths, and NO2 led to 88,113 years of life lost.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said the data was five years old and did not include many of the impacts of measures he had implemented to clean up the capital's air, including hybrid buses, age limits for taxis and tightening low emission zone standards.

The study suggested the number of deaths would have fallen in 2012 and 2015 due to projected reductions in pollution, and would fall further by 2020 as a result of the introduction of an "ultra low emissions zone" in the city.

But the mayor said that, with half the health effects caused by air pollutants coming from outside London and even from abroad, the Government and the EU must help to win London's "pollution battle".

And Mr Johnson, who is opposed to Heathrow expansion, called again for ministers to rule out a third runway at the airport over concerns it would generate more pollution.

He said: "This is a snapshot of the true impact of air pollutants on our health.

"My greatest priority remains to protect the well-being and environment of Londoners, and this scientific evidence will ensure we have all the information needed to continue delivering comprehensive measures that bring real change.

"I've been criticised for cleaning up taxis, upgrading bus fleets and my plans for the world's first Ultra-Low Emission Zone in 2020, but this study shows imperatively why these bold measures are required.

"I need the help and strong support of the Government and the EU to effectively win London's pollution battle and target the enormous amount of toxic air transported into our great capital internationally."

But air quality campaigners said more action was needed in the capital.

Friends of the Earth's London campaigner Jenny Bates said: "It's a scandal that thousands of people die early every year because of London's filthy air.

"It's time to stop tinkering around the edges.

"A bold and urgent action plan is desperately needed to tackle London's illegal air quality.

"A transport revolution is required to clean up the capital's vehicles, cut traffic levels and improve public transport, cycling and walking.

"Building more roads and airport capacity would only make matters worse," she added.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "In one of the busiest cities in the world people are at greater risk of being killed by the air they breathe than in a car accident.

"These figures suggest that, every year, six times as many people are killed by air pollution in London as are killed in road traffic accidents across the entire country.

"Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of lung cancer, impairs child lung development and increases the risk of hospitalisation among people with a pre-existing lung condition.

"It is time we stop talking and take immediate action to prevent more people being needlessly killed by the air that they breathe."

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