Air pollution link to 28,000 deaths

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image captionLarge parts of England and Wales had high pollution last week, but the figures refer to long-term exposure

Long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to more than 28,000 deaths across the UK in 2010, government figures show.

Public Health England (PHE) said 5.3 per cent of all deaths in over-25s were linked to air pollution, although the figures varied considerably by region.

Authors of the study said people whose death was hastened by pollution lost an average of 10.6 years of their lives.

Environmental campaigners said the problem was "outrageous".

The figures are estimates for long-term exposure to pollutants.

Government blamed

They do not include short-term exposure, such as that seen in many areas last week.

The highest percentage of deaths was in London. In the Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster boroughs, 8.3% of deaths were linked to pollution. In Tower Hamlets, the figure was 8.1%.

The fewest pollution-related deaths were in rural Scotland and Northern Ireland (2.5%) and the Western Isles (2.4%).

There has been little change in the death estimates over recent years, BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin said.

Public health campaigners have argued that the government is to blame for failing to implement an EU directive on clean air.

'National disgrace'

PHE insisted that air quality has improved "considerably" as a result of cleaner-air technology and tighter environmental legislation.

But Dr Paul Cosford, PHE's director of health protection and medical director, said local authorities should consider further measures.

Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said the figures were a "national disgrace".

She added: "It's outrageous that tens of thousands of people die prematurely in England every year because of polluted air."

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said action was needed "urgently".

A Department for the Environment spokesperson said: "This report will help local authorities prioritise air pollution amongst other public health issues. It is well recognised that air quality can affect people's health, which is why we are investing heavily in measures to improve it.

"We have committed billions to increase uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, sustainable travel and green transport initiatives, all of which will help improve air quality."

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