Almost 10,000 premature deaths could be linked to air pollution in London over a year according to a groundbreaking report that marks a dramatic increase on previous estimates.
A study undertaken by King’s College London found in terms of life-years lost the equivalent of 9,500 deaths could be linked to airborne particulate matter PM.5 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 2010.
Previous estimates has suggested the number of premature deaths could be around a third of that figure.
The research is thought to mark the first time any city has quantified the health effects of both NO2 and PM2.5.
The report states: 'The total mortality burden in 2010 from PM2.5 and NO2 can be added to give a range from the 52,630 life-years lost, equivalent to 3,537 deaths at typical ages from PM2.5 alone (if only including the most established effects) to as much as 140,743 life-years lost, equivalent to 9,416 deaths at typical ages (assuming a 30% overlap between the effects of PM2.5 and NO2 and comparing with a zero concentration of NO2).'
Its results were met with outrage from transport campaigners, who demanded ‘serious investment’ to counteract London’s dependence on motorised travel.
Mayor Boris Johnson renewed calls on the Government and the EU for greater support to tackle air pollution in the capital.
He highlighted that nearly half the health effects caused by NO2 and PM.5 were a result of air pollution outside London such as diesel fumes and launched calls for tightened emissions controls across the UK.
Mr Johnson said: ‘My greatest priority remains to protect the well-being and environment of Londoners, and this scientific evidence will ensure we have all the information needed to continue delivering comprehensive measures that bring real change.
‘I’ve been criticised for cleaning up taxis, upgrading bus fleets and my plans for the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone in 2020, but this study shows imperatively why these bold measures are required.
‘I need the help and strong support of the Government and the EU to effectively win London’s pollution battle and target the enormous amount of toxic air transported into our great capital internationally.’
Report author, Dr Heather Walton, said: ‘The health evidence on the health effects of nitrogen dioxide has strengthened in recent years, including evidence linking long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide with mortality. It is now thought that there is an additional effect beyond that previously quantified for the effects of long-term exposure to PM2.5.’
Philip Insall, health director of campaign group Sustrans, said the ‘damning’ evidence from the report meant ‘the Government can't afford not to act, and act now’.
‘By reducing our reliance on motor vehicles and putting serious investment into walking and cycling we can slash pollution, and at the same time we will benefit from lower obesity, reduced traffic congestion and more pleasant urban environments,’ Mr Insall said.
‘Recent legislation in the shape of the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy demands that the Government develops a plan to do just that. But it is really vital that the level of investment planned is high enough to achieve meaningful change and eliminate the air quality crisis at its source.’
Mr Johnson has today launched consultation on a range of measures to help boroughs tackle air pollution hot spots and emissions through the Local Air Quality Management process. The approach will be supported through £20m from the mayor’s Air Quality Fund.
Julian Bell, chair of London Councils’ transport and environment committee, said: 'The report’s findings show the shocking state of air quality in London and the scale of the impact it has on Londoners’ health. It is now more apparent than ever that London needs a joined-up air quality strategy, with urgent action taken at all levels of government and business.
'Boroughs themselves are at the forefront of efforts to improve air quality. My own council, Ealing, is one of a number encouraging cycling as part of a wider effort to encourage a shift away from cars, while Croydon, Lewisham, Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth have jointly developed a schools programme to raise children’s awareness and help them to protect themselves from harmful particulates. Boroughs urgently need the funding to take further steps to tackle poor air quality.'