The death toll from tiny particulate pollution in London has soared above 1,000 in less than four months this year, shock figures revealed today.
The disclosure sparked fresh calls from campaigners and academics for tougher action from Boris Johnson’s successor and the Government to tackle the “silent killer” of air pollution shortening so many people’s lives in the city.
Clean Air in London estimates that the 2016 death toll attributable to long-term exposure to human-made PM2.5 pollution reached the 1,000 mark on Monday and now stands at more than 1,020.
The campaign group’s founder Simon Birkett said: “This is the single issue where the Mayor has the greatest power to act.
On the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act we need to ban diesel vehicles from the most polluted places before 2020, as more than half of Londoners are demanding.”
Scientists say PM2.5 pollution is particularly dangerous as it can get deep into the lungs and seep into the bloodstream — causing heart and lung disease, cancer, and aggravating asthma.
Jonathan Grigg, professor of paediatric respiratory and environmental medicine at Queen Mary University, London, called on the Government to appoint an “air pollution czar” to clean up filthy air in the capital and other towns and cities.
“We live in Europe’s most polluted city,” he said. “Politicians really have got to get a grip on this.
“There is no point waiting 10 years. We have got a whole generation of children to protect now.” He stressed that youngsters are especially vulnerable to air pollution, as their lungs are still developing. Some experts blame diesel engines for most PM2.5 pollution generated in the capital.
City Hall, though, stressed that many adverse effects associated with PM2.5 are linked to pollution coming into London from other countries.
A spokeswoman said: “Air quality in London is improving but further measures are needed to tackle this issue fully.”
She emphasised that recent measurements of particulate matter found the greatest improvements are beside busy roads where people are most exposed to pollution.
“This is a result of action to cut emissions, including cleaning up taxis and upgrading the bus fleet and has led to the capital becoming compliant with legal limits for particulate matter for the first time,” she added.
The death toll — the combined total of months of lost life due to PM2.5 pollution among a local population — was highest in Barnet, equating to 47 deaths, followed by Bromley and Croydon on 46 and Ealing on 41.
Pollution levels are higher in central London. But the local totals also depend on the number of residents.
The analysis by Clean Air in London is based on Public Health England figures for local mortality rates linked to PM2.5 pollution.
They show the rate nudging up slightly from 2012 to 2013, the latest available data. Experts believe the combined death toll from nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5 pollution in London is more than 9,000 a year.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Improving air quality is a priority for this government.
“That is why last year we published plans setting out a new programme of clean air zones which, alongside national action to encourage uptake of low-emission vehicles and continued investment in clean technologies, will create cleaner, healthier air for all.”