Deadly air pollution limits breached in Boston.

New analysis by the UK100 local government leaders network of figures from the British Lung Foundation reveal air pollution can contribute to 40,000 deaths each year. The research found that almost 18 million people are registered to a GP surgery in an area where air pollution exceeds the World Health Organisation (WHO) limits. That’s equivalent to nearly one in three (30%) of all NHS patients in England.

The East Midlands, the UK region with over 2 million NHS patients, has the second highest percentage of patients registered at GP practices which exceed WHO air pollution limits for PM2.5. Boston is listed as one of the worst areas in the East Midlands for the number of NHS patients exposed, and the percentage who are registered at GP surgeries in areas where the WHO limits are exceeded.

The term PM2.5 refers to particulate matter where particles are 30 times smaller than a human hair. They can quickly penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. PM2.5s may come from a variety of sources including industrial, commercial and agricultural emissions, and residential sources. But the biggest contributor to urban hotpots remains road transport.

The research was published by the UK100 reviewing the figures from a reported released by the British Lung Foundation in 2018.

Particulate matter and air pollution can contribute to a myriad of illnesses and disease including asthma, cancer, particularly lung and breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Such poor air quality can harm the respiratory health and lungs of children and other vulnerable groups like older people. By setting its annual exposure limit higher than the recommended safety limit from the WHO of 10μg/m3, the UK’s limit of 25μg/m3 meets its legal air pollution target but fails to protect the population. Workers can be at particular risk and are often continually exposed to much higher levels of air pollution than the general population, depending on how and where they work, for example on or by roads.

Recent research in Canada highlighted the neglected links between air pollution and breast cancer. Premenopausal women exposed to high levels of air pollution have a 30% increased risk for breast cancer, and women living in urban (more polluted) environments have denser breast tissue which also increases the risk of breast cancer.

Air pollution has been called a national health crisis contributing to tens of thousands of deaths each year.  There is a call for urgent action from the government to produce a new Clean Air Act to tackle toxic fumes, combined with funding for local authorities to clean up the toxic air.

The Trade Union Clean Air Network (TUCAN) launched on the 6th of February has produced a charter which calls for new legal protections and occupational standards, to give greater protection to workers in the UK.

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