People in cities such as Leeds now '21 times more likely' to die from air pollution than road accidents
Nearly five per cent of all adult deaths in Leeds are connected to exposure to air pollution, data analysts have estimated.
Research has revealed that around 300 people in the city die each year as a result of long-term exposure to toxins which are still "entirely legal", accounting for 4.5 per cent of all adult deaths.
The study, carried out by independent research institute Centre for Cities, claims that adults are now 21 times more likely to die from exposure to deadly PM2.5 particles, which are linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, than they are from road accidents.
The particles are emitted from both man-made and natural sources, through exhausts from petrol and diesel vehicles and wood burning stoves.
One Leeds-based scientist described long-term exposure to such particles as equivalent to "slowly poisoning your body", with some smaller particles emitted from car exhausts tiny enough to penetrate human cell walls and enter the bloodstream.
Dr Jim McQuaid, Associate Professor of Atmospheric Composition at Leeds University, researches air quality.
He said: "There are two main forms of air pollution - that is, nitrogen dioxide, which is a gas produced from combustion in vehicles, and particulate matter, which is dust and particles in the air . Braking vehicles produce it, as well as candles and air fresheners. Wood burning stoves are also a huge source of PM2.5.
"It can also be blown in the wind over from Europe."
Dr McQuaid added: "We also measure ultra fine PM1 particles, which are produced from cars and are so small they pass through cell walls and get into the blood stream.
"Overall, it's very difficult to quantify, but everything suggests that a child growing up exposed to air pollution is not going to live as long a life.
"It can make people more susceptible to other illnesses; it also can affect unborn children.
"You're basically feeding poison very slowly into your body over time."
Data analyst Kathrin Ennenken, who authored the report, said the figures are likely to be much higher as they don't account for other pollutants such as Nitrogen Dioxide.
Speaking to the YEP, she said: "People are dying because of PM2.5.
"It is the most deadly pollutant because it is such a small particle and is the most easily trapped in the human respiratory system.
"The long term exposure to PM2.5 causes conditions like lung cancer, it stems the growth of children's lungs and increases the risk of strokes and cardiac arrest."
Leeds City Council has meanwhile said it is urgently prioritising the crisis of the city's air quality, yet it was also down to citizens to reduce their own individual impact on the air we breathe.
Coun James Lewis, executive member with responsibility for air quality, said: "We are taking a range of actions to tackle air pollution.
"For example, our fleet already operates more zero-emission electric vehicles than any other local authority in the country and we recently announced plans to expand it more than 200.
"We will be one of the first cities outside of London to introduce a Clean Air Charging Zone this summer and we are helping those affected switch to cleaner vehicles with £23m of financial support.
“We’re also raising awareness of engine idling and have just launched our innovative EV Trials scheme with Highways England, giving businesses, charities, and organisations in West Yorkshire the opportunity to trial electric vehicles for up to two months, free of charge.
“The council is also working with city partners to invest £270m in schemes that will transform transport and travel, making it easier to leave the car at home. This includes additional park and ride spaces, new bus priority lanes and an expanded cycle network.
“Everyone that lives or works in Leeds shares a responsibility for cleaning the air we share and there are lots of ways to help. Individuals can do their bit by using the car less often, sharing their journeys more often, and by turning off their engines when idling.”