'Toxic air' could cause 7,000 deaths in Suffolk and Essex this decade, charity warns
PUBLISHED: 05:31 13 January 2020 | UPDATED: 08:48 13 January 2020
Air pollution could cause more than 7,000 deaths in Suffolk and Essex this decade - that is the warning from the British Heart Foundation, which calls the situation a "public health emergency".
The charity estimates that 2,300 people in Suffolk and 4,900 people in Essex may die of diseases that are connected to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the next decade.
PM2.5 is very small debris invisible to the naked eye - 40 times smaller than the width of a human hair.
The majority of the particles are produced by road vehicles and construction, and are connected to resipratory diseases, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.
Type 2 diabetes, bladder cancer and dementia can also be made worse by the pollution.
District and borough councils in Suffolk are responsible for monitoring air quality, however none of them published levels of particulate matter in their 2019 reports.
However, Government data gathered in 2017 showed Suffolk and Essex had the joint second-highest levels of PM2.5 in the east of England - with the Thurrock and Southend council areas joint top.
Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the BHF, said: "Make no mistake - our toxic air is a public health emergency, and we haven't done enough to tackle this threat to our society.
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"We need to ensure that stricter, health-based air quality guidelines are adopted into law to protect the health of the nation as a matter of urgency.
"Every day, millions of us across the country are inhaling toxic particles which enter our blood and get stuck in our organs, raising our risk of heart attacks and stroke."
These figures have been released in the same week that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in Ipswich were show to be higher than Government limits at 19 test sites in the town - with the greenhouse gas linked to heart and lung problems.
Tony Goldson, chair of Suffolk's Health and Wellbeing board, said: "Industrial activity outside of Suffolk's large towns is mostly light in nature with few large industrial sites.
"As such, local industry has relatively little impact on air quality.
"The major air pollutant of concern across much of Suffolk has been nitrogen dioxide (NO2), the primary source of which is emissions from road transport.
"We are as safe as anywhere else in this country. There are many parts of the world that this is not the case."
The air quality guidelines document Suffolk County Council use when assessing planning applications says "it is likely that removing exposure to all PM2.5 would have a bigger impact on life expectancy in England and Wales than eliminating passive smoking or road traffic accidents".
Currently, the UK follows EU limits for PM2.5, however Public Health England say the negative health effects of the pollutant "can be felt well below the legal concentration limits".
The global Health Data Index estimates up to 11,000 heart and circulatory disease deaths are attributable to particulate air pollution in the UK every year.