Air pollution caused more deaths than road accidents in the UK

28 Apr 2012, 07:45
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Air pollution caused more deaths than road accidents in the UK

Surprisingly road pollution is claimed to be twice as deadly as traffic accidents in the UK, a new study suggests.


An article, published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology, looked at the air pollution in the United Kingdom. Steve Yim and Steven Barret from Massachusetts Institute of Technologies were the leading authors of the study.


It has been found that around 5,000 of deaths across the Scotland, Wales and England were caused by the air pollution, combustion exhausts in particular. Authors also claimed that about 2,000 of premature death are caused by the exhaust of airplane gases.


It is important to note that traffic accidents caused just about 1, 850 deaths in 2010. In general, the study which was mentioned before, received the same results as a similar report in 2008 when government's Committee on the Medical Effects if Air Pollutants (COMEAP) presented a figures of about 29,000 deaths in the UK were caused by air pollution.


Although the figures on recent study were slightly different, the COMEAP officials said it was due to the different methodology. It was estimated that 19,000 death per year in the UK were caused by air pollution, which, consecutively exacerbate different conditions of the health.


The aforementioned study made an interesting division between mortality rates based on sector - transport, energy and industry. They have combined different models of air circulation and chemistry with medical data in order to make their own numbers of death rates because of the air pollution.


Despite the very common notion that industry and the energy sector are the number one air pollutant, it turns out that vehicles emission kills a lot more than manufacturing and power sector, according to the study.


The peculiarity here is that cars and other types of ground vehicles are giving out exhausts right where people live, work and spend spare time. That is why it was claimed that vehicles have greater impact on the mortality rates in the UK than big industries, which usually locate outside the big cities.


Another set of figures supports previous idea of vehicles impact on the health. It was found that 2,200 death in Greater London and about 630 in both Greater Manchester and West Midlands were caused by the air pollutants.


Because of The European continent has a peculiar weather pollutants from the European continent reach the United Kingdom adding around 1000 death to the 2,200 caused by domestic exhausts.


However, about 3,000 death in Europe can be caused by the UK industry and vehicles emmisions each year, authors think. The propensity for air pollution to straddle boundaries has political, as well as medical, implications.


The UK is currently facing the threat of prosecution by the European Union for serial violations of air-quality standards.


But the new study suggests that 40% of the key pollutant, PM2.5 (particles up to 2.5 micrometres in diameter) comes from abroad. Not that these legal niceties are of any help to those most at danger from polluted air.


The analysis identifies key improvements that would help reduce the health burden of air pollution.


Practical measures include the reduction of black carbon emitted in car exhausts - especially from older cars that fail to burn their fuel completely. Reductions in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions would also help, though perhaps at a cost of making vehicles less efficient.


Far more effective, experts say, would be to invest in public transport, taking cars off the road altogether. Such improvements would come at a cost, but so does continuing with business as usual.


"We estimate the premature deaths are costing the UK at least £6 billion a year," says Steven Barrett, "and perhaps as much as £60 billion."


For comparison, Crossrail is projected to cost £14.8 billion to build and expected to remove 15,000 car journeys during the morning peak.


Meanwhile, Steven Barrett is moving his attention to another form of public transport, and hopes soon to conclude a detailed assessment of the health impacts of either a third runway at Heathrow and of the alternative Thames Estuary Airport proposal.

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