London's poorest most at risk from air pollution
20 Jul 2012 11:00 AM
The lives of some of the most deprived and vulnerable people in London are most at risk from air pollution caused by two of London’s most iconic symbols – black cabs and red buses. Over 4,000 deaths in London, and around 29,000 deaths across the UK each year are attributable to fine particulate air pollution caused by diesel engined vehicles, at a cost to the economy of £15bn.
A new report by leading think tank Policy Exchange shows that children living in the worst places in London for air quality are nearly 50% more likely to be eligible for free school meals than the London average. Residents of the most polluted areas are also around 25% more likely to be on income support than the London average.
The research – Something in the Air – says that air pollution is Britain’s invisible environmental problem. It is comparable to obesity and alcohol and second only to smoking as a public health problem, but gets far less attention. Yet some government policies, such as encouraging diesel vehicles in cities, are making the problem even worse.
The research found that:
- 5-10 year old children living in the 10% of areas with the lowest air quality in London are nearly 50% more likely than the London average to be on free school meals
- People living in the 10% of the areas with the lowest air quality are over 25% more likely than the London average to be on income support
- 320,000 children (including more than 180,000 under 11) attend schools in London within 150 metres of a road carrying more than 10,000 vehicles a day – the level of traffic deemed to be at risk of leading to or exacerbating asthma
- Londoners are most at risk but Birmingham, Leicester and Southampton are among other cities with serious air pollution problems
- Gower Street, Tottenham Court Road and New Road and Heathway in Barking are the streets with the worst air quality in the country.
The report says that London’s air quality will come under intense international scrutiny during the Olympic Games. It says that nitrogen dioxide levels are as bad in London as they are in Beijing, the last city to host the Games.
Policy Exchange makes a number of recommendations including:
Reducing or removing exemptions from the congestion charge for diesel-engined cars and other vehicles with low CO2 emissions, but which cause considerable localised air pollution.
Trialling a traffic light system of parking permits with a red sticker highlighting that the vehicle is a major air polluter.
A government backed public education campaign in schools across the country to warn children and parents of the dangers of air pollution and explain what they can do to help improve it.
Refurbishing London buses using recently-trialled pollution reduction technology.
Simon Moore, author of the report, “The Olympics gives politicians the catalyst they need to start tackling this invisible killer which is more serious than any public health problem other than smoking. Stepping up measures to tackle harmful air pollution should be the major component of the environmental legacy of the Games that the government and the Mayor want to secure”.