Air pollution in Belfast is equivalent to smoking 94 cigarettes a year: charity
People living in Belfast are exposed to a health risk that is equivalent to smoking 94 cigarettes each year, a leading charity has warned.
Air pollution is so bad in Belfast that anyone living in the city has the same increased risk of death as a person who smokes 94 cigarettes a year.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has carried out research which has shed light on the devastating impact of air pollution across Northern Ireland.
Belfast has the highest average daily level of air pollution out of all local authorities here and is closely followed by Lisburn and Castlereagh, where residents breathe in the equivalent of 71 cigarettes every year.
This is closely followed by Ards and North Down, where residents breathe in the equivalent of 68 cigarettes a year, and Antrim and Newtownabbey and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, where residents smoke the equivalent of 65 and 64 cigarettes a year respectively.
Fine particulate matter called PM2.5 is the most dangerous kind of air pollution, finding its way into the circulatory system when inhaled.
BHF research has shown that PM2.5 can have a seriously detrimental effect to heart health, making existing conditions worse, and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Fearghal McKinney, head of BHF in Northern Ireland, said: "Air pollution is a major public health emergency, and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves.
"That's why we hosted an air pollution event in Belfast that discussed its deadly impacts on our health and you will be hearing a lot more from us on this important issue.
"Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame.
"We are calling on our local councils to introduce more effective monitoring of air pollution, so we can understand the true scale of the problem we face."
The charity's warning comes after BHF NI hosted their Act on Air Pollution: Save Lives event in Belfast.
The event included a panel of experts discussing the impact of air pollution on people's health and what can be done about it.
The new figures come as BHF NI urges the next Westminster government to urgently adopt into law tougher World Health Organisation (WHO) air pollution limits.
The UK currently subscribes to EU limits on levels of PM2.5, which are not as stringent as those set by the WHO.
Before Parliament was dissolved for the general election, the Westminster government introduced the Environment Bill, which set out a commitment to binding targets for fine particulate matter, but did not commit to adopting World Health Organisation guideline limits.
However, in July 2019, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) published findings which found that implementing WHO guidelines on air pollution is "technically feasible".
BHF NI has said that such a commitment is a crucial step in protecting heart health.
Binding 2030 targets, set in law, will ensure effective action to reduce air pollution and the risk it poses to people's heart and circulatory health, it has argued.
Mr McKinney added: "The last Westminster government accepted that it is possible to implement tougher WHO air pollution limits, and it must now do so to protect our health."