Here's how UK air pollution kills 40,000 people a year and costs the economy £20bn


As the death toll rises, is London becoming a less attractive place to do business?

As I write, highly civilised human beings are driving around our streets, flying overhead, and obliviously killing one another. Most of them are probably kind-hearted law-abiding people who would never dream of contributing to the death of another human being.

But the pollution problem in Britain has become so bad that it now causes over 40,000 deaths a year, with much of the pollution coming from factories and vehicles.

A landmark study by the Royal College of Physicians estimates the huge cost of air pollution on public health, and business at over £20bn a year.

Outdoor air pollution, which is the cause of the 40,000 recorded deaths in the UK, has changed considerably in nature over the second half of the 20th Century and early 21st Century.

While visible particulate matter from burning coal has declined enormously, carcinogenic irritants in from diesel exhausts have increased exponentially.

Around half the vehicles on the road in the UK now run on diesel, according to Sustrans. And by 2012 there was 10 times more traffic than in 1949.

Prof Stephen Holgate, an asthma expert at Southampton University and the chairman of the reporting group, warned that we are not taking the problem seriously enough.

“We all have a part to play to cut environmental pollution. We can’t see it, smell it or taste it, which is why people do not necessarily think we have a problem.

“When you see cars piling up on the way to school taking their children, the fumes directly from the vehicle in front are being vented straight into the car behind, and exposing their child – and yet we are ignoring this,” he added.

Deaths from outdoor air pollution

Indoor pollution

The report also warned of the largely unrecognised problem of indoor air pollution, which kills an estimated figure of 99,000 people across all of Europe each year.

The main culprits for indoor pollution related fatalities include smoking, faulty boilers, gas cookers and heaters, along with irritant chemicals from air fresheners and household cleaning products.

In addition house-dust mites, mould and dander from pets can also cause respiratory problems.

pollution cycling London

Business response

Leading business organisations have warned that air pollution is a challenge and that unchecked, could make London less competitive.

A CBI spokesperson told London Loves Business: “Air pollution is a serious issue for cities across the globe. Managing our environmental impact, reducing our emissions and tackling air pollution, is a challenge for all of us – government, business and individuals. We need to make sure London remains competitive and an attractive place to live, work and do business.”

“Worryingly high levels”

An FSB spokesperson said: “Air pollution is a matter of great concern for small firms, particularly in London where the levels in certain parts of central London are at worrying high levels. The FSB is a long standing member of the mayoral backed London Healthy Workplace Charter Initiative to encourage more small firms accredited for promoting healthy workplaces. FSB London members are also keen for root and branch reform of the Congestion Charge and Low Emissions Zone to fully recognise the impact of harmful vehicles, as 35% of FSB members feel that the amounts charged should be higher for environmentally ‘less friendly’ vehicles.”



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