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Clinical Articles, News & Views

Decline in air pollution masking major problems in UK cities

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is disappointed with the air quality plans released recently and concerned that new emissions data might be interpreted positively when the UK population continues to live with a serious air pollution problem.1

While the BHF is pleased to see that the new emissions data also recently released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) shows a continuing decline in emissions in the UK as a whole, the charity argues this is a distraction from the localised air quality problems that the Government has so far failed to act upon.

The Supreme Court order handed down to Defra earlier this year clearly shows that the UK is breaching its duty to clean up the UK’s dirty air yet the BHF feels that the Government’s air quality plans are not strong enough to effectively tackle these localised air pollution problems.

Laura Thomas, Head of Policy at the BHF, said: “While pollution levels as a whole are declining, air pollution hot spots in many UK cities are seriously damaging our health. The devil is in the detail and the Government cannot use general statistics like this to shirk its responsibilities to clean up the UK’s dirty air. This is particularly worrying when we know how dangerous air pollution is for a person’s health – raising their risk of a deadly or disabling heart attack or stroke.”

“While these figures are superficially promising, they’re so shrouded in smog they’re harder to navigate than Oxford Street on Christmas Eve. They mask the major air quality problems faced by people living or working in UK air pollution hotspots such as areas of London and the Midlands…The public deserves clean air that will not harm their heart health. We’re disappointed with the lack of ambition shown by the Government in this plan to clean up the UK’s air. Proposing five clean air zones where polluting vehicles will be allowed to drive as long as they pay to do so will harm heart health,” Ms Thomas added.

Since 2010 the BHF has provided nearly £7 million for medical research that will help us better understand the link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease. We have learnt that air pollution can make existing heart conditions worse and cause cardiovascular events in vulnerable groups. Recent studies have linked air pollution to increased incidence of heart attacks, strokes and a worsening of heart failure.2

There are 7 million people in the UK living with cardiovascular disease3 and the likelihood of their exposure to air pollution is high. It is therefore imperative the governments and administrations around the UK ensure they are meeting European Union air quality limits and targets as soon as possible to improve air quality.

References

1. Statement issued in response to ‘Emissions of air pollutants in the UK, 1970-2014’ and ‘Improving air quality in the UK’ released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 17 December 2015.

2. Newby DE. et al. Expert position paper on air pollution and cardiovascular disease. Euro Heart J 2014. http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/36/2/83.long

3. Cardiovascular disease statistics 2015, BHF. https://www.bhf.org.uk/statistics

4. Read the BHF’s policy on air pollution and download our full position statement here: https://www.bhf.org.uk/about-us/our-policies/preventing-heart-disease/air-pollution

Published on: January 14, 2016

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