AIR pollution contributed to the deaths of more than 2,500 people in Yorkshire in just one year, a clinical body has claimed, with emissions from road travel being the primary contributor.
A report from Public Health England estimates that long-term exposure to air pollution caused the death of 2,567 people in the region during 2010 – and 25,000 nationwide.
The scale of the pollution adds up to 26,636 life years being lost in Yorkshire and was a factor in 5.3 per cent of adult deaths, the report claims.
The worst area for deaths from particle air pollution – which can contribute to cardiovascular disease – was Hull, at 5.9 per cent, closely followed by Rotherham and Wakefield at 5.7 per cent and Doncaster at 5.6 per cent. In Leeds and Sheffield the figure was 5.5 per cent.
Dr John Radford, chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Directors of Public Health, said: “In the past pollution was linked with chronic lung conditions, but it’s the small carbon particles that get right down to the lungs and into your circulation that increase the risk of heart attack.”
Dr Radford, who is also director of public health in Rotherham, added: “Because it is not visible and it is silent, we tend to ignore it. But even if you live in a rural area, you are still being exposed. It is the most important emergent public health issue for the region and the country.”
Public Health England (PHE) said air quality has improved “considerably” in recent decades but local action should be taken to reduce the death rate.
Dr Paul Cosford, PHE’s director of health protection and medical director, said: “Policies that encourage a shift from motorised transport to walking and cycling would be expected to reduce total vehicle emissions. Local authorities could also consider other measures to improve air quality, such as implementing low emission strategies as well as the appropriate design of green spaces.”
Earlier this year, the Highways Agency consulted on proposals to put a 60mph speed limit on the M1 from Mansfield to Rotherham in a bid to reduce emissions.
Measures like this, combined with investment in sustainable public transport, tighter regulation on freight and taking personal responsibility for switching to greener transport, would make a real difference, said Simon Bowens, Friends of the Earth Yorkshire and the Humber campaigner. He said: “We need to make sure that we have cleaner HGVs and lower emissions. Introducing a national network of low emissions zones would do that.”
Dr Andrew Furber, Wakefield Council’s director of public health placed the blame on the city’s proximity to the M1, M62 and A1. He said: “This is good for connectivity and employment, but means that air pollution levels can be higher than in some other areas.”
Andrew Taylor, assistant director of public health at Hull Council, said: “Hull is the most urban area within Yorkshire, with the fewest green spaces and tightest boundaries. We would therefore expect air pollution to be slightly higher.”