UK Air Pollution Levels Are Some Of The Worst In Europe

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The Law Of… protecting the vulnerable against pollution

In a recent study carried about by the World Health Organisation, it has been revealed that UK's air pollution is more deadly than almost half of Western Europe.


Phillip Gower, an Industrial Disease Solicitor at Simpson Millar explores the worrying news that the UK has such a staggering amount of air pollution related deaths related.

The study, which was carried out by the World Health Organisation, made some terrifying findings when comparing the UK with other European countries. The study was carried out initially to reveal real causes of death across the globe.

What Does Air Pollution Consist Of?

There are a number of substances in the air that are harmful to people. Since pollution records began, the issues have mainly been in developed and rapidly industrialised areas, such as large cities and towns.

Currently, the largest threats to good health come in the form of:

  • Carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Oxides of nitrogen (NOx)
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Particulate matter (PM10)

These poisonous substances are caused by the huge amounts of traffic emissions often found in built-up areas. Sadly, they are not constrained to cities as these types of fumes can be transported long distances.

How Does Air Pollution Affect The UK?

According to the World Health Organisation's report, the mortality rate caused by air pollution for the UK was 25.7 per 100,000, rating the UK as 15th worst in Europe. In comparison, Sweden's air pollution death rate was recorded at 0.4 per 100,000. Spain, France and the Netherlands also achieved a lower mortality rate attributed to air pollution in comparison to the UK.

Air Pollution has been proven to increase the risk of:

  • Dementia
  • Lung cancer and generally jeopardise lung function
  • Urinary bladder cancer
  • Brain inflammation in the form of headaches, memory, or vision loss
  • Heart problems

Dr Penny Woods, the chief executive of the British Lung Foundation commented that:

"In the UK, air pollution is a public health crisis hitting our most vulnerable the hardest – our children, people with a lung condition and the elderly."

"Yet, we are in the fortunate position of having the technology and resources to fix this problem. It's time to use what we have to sort this problem out as a matter of urgency."

What Is Being Done To Combat Air Pollution?

In 1956, Britain's largest cities saw a smog surround the buildings and people. It became such a problem that a lack of sunlight led to a rise in rickets – a disease that affects bone development. As a result of this, the government passed the Clean Air Act of 1956. A further update of this act was distributed in 1993, but no further developments have happened since then, despite public support for a new clean air act.

The Government have recently produced plans to bring the levels of air pollution down to an acceptable level by the European Union Legislation. The plans suggested charging schemes whereby drivers are charged for driving through heavily polluted areas, but these plans do not stipulate that local authorities must introduce charging zones.

How Can I Avoid Air Pollution Related Diseases?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has produced a document, Guide to UK Air Pollution Information Resources, which provides guidance on what can be done to avoid air pollution and its adverse effects.

It is also a good idea to keep an eye on the UK's Pollution forecast, particularly if you have children or suffer from a respiratory disease. The colour coding is easy to follow and you can look up to 4 days in advance.

Research has been done by the British Heart Foundation to see if the role of a facemask could effectively protect against damaging pollution. The masks were found to improve some of the risk factors, however The British Heart Foundation haven't found enough proof to warrant support for the routine use of facemasks in the UK.

Can I Claim Compensation For Exposure To Air Pollution?

There are regulations in place to ensure outside workers such as train crews, construction workers, and professional drivers are protected as much as is possible by their employer. It is common for workers that are exposed to large amounts of pollution (primarily diesel fumes) could suffer from industrial diseases, many of which have a low survival rate.

If you have been diagnosed with a serious disease or illness that could be linked to over exposure to diesel fumes or other air pollutants at work, you may be eligible for compensation.

Phillip commented:

"It is incredibly important to challenge poor working practices with compensation claim as it should also lead to improved standards in a workplace."

"It is not new information that the UK has an illegal level of air pollution that the government is not dealing with. However, it is good to see that the World Health Organisation is drawing the attention of the whole world to the issue of mortality rates attributed to air pollution levels."

"A new clean air act would demonstrate the commitment of the government to sort out the issue."

"It is sad that the vulnerable continue to be the most affected by something they can do so little about."



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