Air pollution could shorten a child's life by up to seven months says the first study conducted since new Government guidelines.
An eight-year-old child born in 2011 may die between two to seven months early if exposed over their lifetime to projected future pollution concentrations, King's College London researchers studying the city of Birmingham have found. It is the first time new Government guidance on "mortality burdens" of air pollution, which was published last August has been applied in practice in a large city area.
The study looked at the combined impact of two pollutants - particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide - which could cause up to 36,000 deaths across the UK every year, and contribute to a wide range of health conditions including asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
It looked at the effect of air pollution on deaths and loss of life-expectancy but did not include non-fatal health conditions such as asthma.
The impact was considered to be worse than some other major cities in the UK - with the report finding a higher loss of life expectancy in Birmingham than Manchester, which was also recently studied by King’s College London.
The study also calculated the annual health cost of air pollution in Birmingham as between £190 million to £470 million per year.
However, these are not actual costs but a measure of the amount of money society believes it would be reasonable to spend on policies to reduce air pollution, the authors said.
The new study comes just two months after the High Court decided to open a new inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah after new evidence linking Ella’s death to illegal levels of air pollution was presented to The Attorney General Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC. Almost 180,000 people signed a petition supporting the inquest, including the Mayor of London.
Figures released at the beginning of the month by Public Health England showed that children are up to four times more likely to need to visit the doctor for asthma attacks when they return to school in September.
Experts looked at data between 2012 and 2016 and found that the spike in the month of September was due to a combination of stress, changes in the weather, air pollution and an increase in children catching viruses.
Last month, women living in polluted areas were told to consider moving to the countryside to improve fertility after researchers in Italy found toxic particles damaged the ovarian reserve.
Now, a network of local leaders are calling for clean air zones to be established in major cities across the country.
Polly Billington, director of the UK100 network, which commissioned the research, said: "This report should be a wake-up call to policymakers not just in Birmingham but across the country.
"We need to tackle this invisible killer, which is cutting the lives of children and causing health misery for thousands of adults.
"By working together, local councils and central government can put in place ambitious and inclusive clean air zones to tackle the most polluting sources of dirty air and let us breathe freely."
The excess mortality cost to the UK of air pollution has been estimated at between £8.5 billion and £20.2 billion a year.
Sue Huyton, co-ordinator of the Clean Air Parents' Network, said: "It's awful that children living in the UK are breathing air that may shorten their lives.
"As a parent, you want to do everything you can for your children, but when it comes to air pollution you can feel helpless - that's why those in power must step up.
"We need the Government and Birmingham City Council to take ambitious action to tackle the toxic air in this city, and we need them to do it now."
Birmingham City Council is planning to introduce a ‘Clean Air Zone’ in 2020.
8 JULY 2019 • 7:00AM