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UK pollution linked to 50,000 annual deaths

By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
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20th October 2017 – Pollution contributes to more than 50,000 deaths each year in the UK, a major report has concluded.

The study, in the medical journal The Lancet, says pollution is linked to around 9 million deaths each year worldwide – equivalent to 16% of all deaths.

Major diseases

Heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and obstructive pulmonary disease ( COPD) top the list of pollution-aggravated deaths.

International researchers found that pollution related deaths are largely confined to poor and marginalised people. Almost all deaths (92%) occur in low to middle income countries.

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health brings together data on how pollution affects health, which parts of the world are affected and how much it costs.

The study found that:

  • Air pollution is responsible for most deaths. This includes released gases and soot that can come from burning wood, charcoal, coal, dung or crop wastes. This is linked to an estimated 6.5 million deaths in 2015.
  • The second largest risk factor is water pollution from unsanitary conditions and polluted water sources that is linked to 1.8 million deaths from gastrointestinal diseases and parasitic infections.
  • Workplace pollution, including exposure to toxins and cancer-causing chemicals, is linked to 0.8 million deaths.

The detrimental effects of pollution are noticeably bad in India, with 2.5 million deaths, followed by China with 1.8 million. That equates to 24.5% and 19.5% of all deaths respectively.

Pollution in the UK

This contrasts sharply with the UK where 8.4% of deaths are linked to pollution. But the UK performs poorly against other European countries like Sweden, where pollution is associated with just 3.9% of deaths, and France where the figure is 5.7%.

Of the 50,235 annual deaths in the UK, 28,346 are caused by air pollution, the study found.

"A contributing factor could be our dependence on diesel vehicles, notorious for pumping out a higher amount of poisonous particles and gases," says Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, in an emailed statement. "These hit hardest people with a lung condition, children and the elderly.

"The Government should act immediately by using the Budget to amend the tax system to stop incentivising diesel vehicles, and finally commit to a new clean air act."

Governments 'must act'

Simon Gillespie, chief Executive at the British Heart Foundation, comments: "These figures are a stark reminder of the deadly toll air pollution is having worldwide. Globally, we know an estimated 80% of premature deaths from air pollution are caused by heart disease and stroke.

"In the UK, we need to play our part in tackling this global problem. Alongside funding research to better understand how air pollution damages our heart health, we urgently need commitment from all levels of Government to improve the nation's air quality, including through the creation of low emission zones.

"This report is also right to highlight the unequal impact of air pollution on people within our society. In the UK, poor air quality disproportionately affects some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our communities, including the young, elderly and those with existing cardiovascular conditions."

Reviewed on October 20, 2017

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