Thousands more Londoners are dying early each year due to toxic air than previously thought, ground-breaking research reveals today.
The study by respected academics has the death toll from air pollution in the capital hitting nearly 10,000 a year.
For the first time, the experts calculated the deadly impact of nitrogen dioxide on the city’s streets.
Millions of people are having their lives shortened by this killer pollutant, blamed to a large extent on diesel fumes.
The report by academics from King’s College, London, estimated that once all this loss of life is added together it was the equivalent to 5,879 deaths a year in 2010.
Previous research on the health impact of PM2.5, tiny particulates of pollution suspended in the air, put the annual death toll at 4,267 in 2008.
The updated study, commissioned by City Hall and Transport for London, found this had fallen to 3,537 in 2010, partly due to air quality improvements.
But the combination of premature deaths from NO2 and PM2.5 was estimated by the experts to amount to 9,416 fatalities in the capital in 2010 – or more than 25 a day.
Across the country, this pollution death toll is expected to have hit around 80,000, up from 29,000 for just PM2.5, once a committee of academics completes its report later this year.
While the NO2 research needs treating with caution as it’s so cutting-edge, the report’s shock findings will inevitably spark fresh calls for the Government and Mayor of London to step up action against pollution.
To his credit, though, Boris Johnson can claim that London is being open about its filthy air problem, especially compared to some other cities around the world.
With pollution levels having fallen since 2010, the death toll is also expected to have gone down “significantly” though this it yet to be quantified.
The Mayor stressed the study was a “snapshot” which revealed:
- A boy born in 2010 in London could expect to see a loss of life of around 17 months on average due to NO2, if such pollution levels in London did not change, and a girl 15.5 months. For PM2.5 it was around nine months for both sexes.
- PM2.5 and NO2 were associated with about 1,990 and 420 respiratory hospital admissions in 2010 respectively, together with 740 cardiovascular admissions linked to PM2.5.
- The annual economic impact of these forms of pollution ranged from £1.4 billion to £3.7 billion.
- Around a 1,000 of the totalled deaths could be saved by 2020 by measures previously brought in by Boris Johnson, without his flagship ultra low emission zone (ULEZ). Once this is included and other steps being taken by the Government, the death toll may possibly be 3,000 lower.
- Nearly half of the health impacts of pollution in London is from dirty air blown in from outside the capital, including diesel and industrial fumes from Paris and other parts of the Continent.
While the Mayor has been accused by environmentalists of dragging his feet over tackling pollution, he has also been criticised for going to far by other groups.
Defending his actions, including ordering all taxis to be zero-emission capable by 2018 and his ULEZ, Mr Johnson said: “This study shows imperatively why these bold measures are required.
“My greatest priority remains to protect the well-being and environment of Londoners, and this scientific evidence will ensure we have all the information needed to continue delivering comprehensive measures that bring real change.”
A borough-by-borough breakdown showed NO2 pollution claiming the equivalent of 279 lives in Barnet in 2010, followed by Bromley and Croydon on 271, and Ealing on 245.
There were at least 200 in Wandsworth, Bexley, Enfield, Greenwich, Havering, Lewisham, Redbridge and Southwark.
Mr Johnson urged the Government and the European Commission to do more on cleaning up London’s air, including by ensuring that new standards for diesel engines meet real-world conditions rather just passing tests in laboratories.
He also warned that a third runway at Heathrow was “inconceivable” if the Government is to meet EU legal limits on pollution. The capital is not set to meet EU legal limits for NO2 before 2030.
Mr Johnson stressed that action by City Hall could get around 80 per cent of central London compliant with EU laws by 2020 but the Government and EU also needed to step up their efforts.
The Supreme Court has ordered ministers to come up by the end of the year with a new plan to cut NO2.