Air pollution levels in 44 UK towns and cities breach safety levels, report finds

Millions of people in the UK are inhaling air considered to be too dangerous to breathe by the World Health Organisation (WHO), according to a new report.

Out of the 51 UK cities and towns listed in an air quality database, 44 fail the WHO's test for fine sooty particles smaller than 2.5 microns, which are linked to heart disease and premature death.

Glasgow topped the list of cities with a PM2.5s concentration of 16 micrograms per cubic metre. The Scottish city was closely followed by followed by London (15), Cardiff (14), Birmingham (14) and Manchester (13). Exposure to the particles, known as PM2.5s, should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air, according to WHO.

The report also highlights how that 802 London schools and a high proportion of the capital's hospitals and clinics were located in highly polluted areas “potentially putting some of society's most vulnerable people at risk”.

One of the report's authors, Dr Toby Hillman from the Royal College of Physicians, said: “We know that high exposures in early life have a major effect on lung and cognitive development throughout an individual's life. That is why it is the government's duty to improve the air we breathe and to ensure that people across the UK are not exposed to such a preventable cause of death and illness. Addressing climate change and poor air quality isn’t a burden or cost, but fundamentally an opportunity we should grasp with both hands.”

Commenting on the report, Matthew Farrow, director of the Environmental Industries Commission, said: “This report reinforces a hard truth - that the UK faces a major public health challenge from polluted air. The long-term solution is likely to be widespread use of electric or other zero-emission vehicles but we need shorter term solutions as well, including use of low emission fuels such as LPG, retrofitting older polluting buses and HGVs with the latest emissions filters and tough emissions restrictions on construction site machinery. The new Clean Air Zones can provide a platform for doing this but will need real political will and proper enforcement of any new regulations."

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