Almost 700 people in Leeds will die this year from illnesses related to air pollution, with an overall cost to the local health economy of £480m, it has been claimed.
Newly released research from environmental campaign group Global Action Plan (GAP) – based on World Health Organisation and regional Public Health data – predicts there will be 2,567 premature adult deaths in Yorkshire this year from bad air quality.
Leeds is the worst regional hotspot – and third nationally – with 680 predicted deaths in 2016.
The projection for Wakefield is 178, Bradford 222, Sheffield 500 and York 82.
The campaign group has now launched a five-point manifesto urging local authorities – which oversee public health matters – to help curb the toll of the silent killer.
GAP’s research found that air pollution costs Leeds more than obesity, one of the biggest national health challenges. Air pollution costs Leeds £480m, while obesity costs £304m.
Caroline Watson, partner at GAP, said: “You might imagine the deaths and illnesses that result from air pollution were consigned to the history books when Leeds was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, but today’s research shows that at least 680 will die early this year. That is simply unacceptable. Individual people must be empowered to take steps to avoid pollution’s worst effects.
“Air pollution is not just an environmental threat it is a public health risk. Our five-point manifesto shows the council that there are steps they could take to improve the lives of the people who live here.”
The group has today launched its Air Quality Manifesto, setting out how the city might reduce the impact of poor air quality. Its five point plan includes practical solutions such as car free days in Leeds City Centre.
One GAP initiative, the Cleaner Air Programme, has already seen the introduction of Clean Air Zones around hospitals in other parts of the UK. The group is now looking to bring the idea to Leeds.
Simon Bowens, Yorkshire campaign lead for Friends of the Earth, said: “Air pollution is the second biggest cause of premature death after smoking in Leeds and across Yorkshire and yet many of the thousands of these deaths are avoidable.
“The proposals within the Air Quality Manifesto are welcome and a Clean Air Zone is needed to get the dirtiest vehicles off our roads, but ambitious action needs to be taken to reduce traffic in the worst affected areas.
“Local action by councils and central Government to promote public transport and active travel such as walking and cycling is essential.”
“Devolved transport spending needs to be targeted at reducing traffic and pollution and not on building roads which will just stimulate traffic growth.”
A spokesman for Leeds City Council said: “The council has been working on a number of initiatives to help tackle air pollution in the city, including working to improve our own fleet, for example seeking to use Compressed Natural Gas for our council refuse collection vehicles, fitting solar panels to our own buildings and more than 1,000 council homes and encouraging people to use sustainable transport and seeing where we can influence others or help the transport industry to make positive changes.
“We are also encouraging businesses, communities and individuals to think about ways they may be able to contribute to cutting pollution with the aim of improving both air quality and public health in the city.
“We are always keen to work with groups and organisations who may be able to help and will look very closely at any proposals to see if they will help us achieve these goals.”
As previously reported, Leeds is one of seven cities in England at risk of missing European targets on air quality – which come into force in 2020 – and could face financial penalties.
Public Health England has previously estimated that long term exposure to pollution contributed to 5.5 per cent of all adult deaths in the city in 2010.
Nitrogen Dioxide is estimated to be responsible for 23,500 deaths in the UK each year, while a further 29,000 are killed by particulates – which are tiny particles of soot.