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Revealed: £190m cost of air pollution to NI health service and new diseases it will cause

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Air pollution is set to cost the Northern Ireland health service up to £190m by 2025, it has emerged.

A stark warning has also revealed air pollution is expected to cause 84,000 news cases of disease here by 2035.

One MLA called for "urgent action" to tackle the issue.

Research last year claimed that one in 24 deaths in Belfast alone can now be linked to air pollution and Stormont's Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has been consulting on a new Clean Air Strategy for Northern Ireland, however it is unclear when this will be published.

There are also two climate change bills progressing through the Assembly, which provided a framework for cutting emissions which contribute to air pollution, among other measures.

In response to a recent Assembly question, the Department of Health (DoH) said that the Health and Social Care costs associated with diseases related to air pollution in Northern Ireland in 2017 were estimated to be around £1.5m.

"If information on diseases where the evidence for an association with air pollution is currently less robust is taken into account, then these costs could rise to nearly £5.4m," the DoH added.

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"Projections of future costs indicated that in the period 2017–2025, the total cost to the HSC of air pollution in Northern Ireland is likely to be in the region of £55m - £190m.

"The sector that is likely to see the largest share of this expenditure would be secondary care. However, the costs in all the other sectors combined is likely exceed this spend. For the period 2017-2035, the combined cost was estimated to be in the region of £182m - £635m."

"When all diseases are included, air pollution is expected to cause 84 thousand new cases of disease in Northern Ireland between 2017 and 2035."

Green Party MLA Rachel Woods said the pandemic has highlighted the importance of proactively protecting public health in order to save lives and protect our health service.

"Air pollution is currently costing Northern Ireland hundreds of millions to deal with, but more worryingly, it is currently costing hundreds of lives. Air pollution is a serious issue which the Executive parties cannot afford to ignore any longer," she said,

“It is estimated that around 800 deaths a year in Northern Ireland are linked to air pollution, and there are expected to be 84,000 new cases of disease in Northern Ireland linked to air pollution between 2017 and 2035.

“The Green Party NI has been calling the Executive to introduce a Clean Air Strategy for years, and lobbying for changes to be made about which pollutants are monitored at a local level, especially to World Health Organisation standards. In his recently published draft Environment Strategy, Minister Poots merely committed to bringing forward a draft Clean Air Strategy sometime in 2022.

“The Executive and the Minister have repeatedly failed to respond to air pollution with the urgency it requires. The Executive must work together to address climate breakdown and take the urgent action needed to improve the quality of life of all our citizens.

Alliance MLA John Blair said: “The findings highlight the severity of the threat air pollution poses to the health service in Northern Ireland. If no immediate action is taken, conditions associated with air pollution exposure will continue to put further strain on the already overstretched health care system.

“Air pollution levels in Northern Ireland are deeply concerning and are a matter I have continually raised in the NI Assembly. I will continue to call for the Health Minister and Environment Minister to work at pace to establish a framework for air quality improvement to protect people's health and the environment across Northern Ireland.”

Last year, the British Heart Foundation warned that air pollution contributes to 800 deaths a year in Northern Ireland, while also having a significant impact on heart health and increasing the risk of stroke.

The charity branded air pollution a “major public health emergency”.


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