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Air pollution hastens deaths of up to 24000 in UK

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.316.7127.247b (Published 24 January 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:247
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. BMJ

    Air pollution hastens the deaths of between 12000 and 24000 vulnerable people a year and is associated with 14000 and 24000 hospital admissions and readmissions, according to a report from the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants.

    The report, Quantification of the Effects of Air Pollution on Health in the United Kingdom, is the first attempt to measure the impact of short term air pollution on people's health. It states that in urban areas of Britain particulate matter is responsible for bringing forward the deaths of 8100 people a year while sulphur dioxide hastens the deaths of 3500 people. High ozone concentrations during the summer months in both urban and rural areas of Britain hastens the deaths of up to 12500 people.

    The health secretary, Frank Dobson, said: “This report clearly confirms that air pollution damages health. While there is still much that we need to find out about the precise effects air pollution has on health, it is clear that it is doing harm to people who are already frail and sick.”

    The chief medical officer, Sir Kenneth Calman, emphasised, however, that these were not necessarily extra deaths or hospital admissions. “The people most likely to be affected by air pollution are those who are already vulnerable—the frail and those who are very ill.” He added: “A similar comparison would be with deaths and hospital admissions brought about by cold weather in winter.”

    Figure1

    Premature deaths and hospital admissions caused by air pollution

    The BMA said that the report strengthens the case for a reduction in road traffic. Dr Noel Olsen, a member of the BMA's board of science, said: “The grim reaper comes early on days when there is heavy air pollution. I urge the government to use the opportunities created by our EU presidency to introduce some practical steps to curb traffic levels and vehicle admissions.”

    The government said that it takes the issue of air pollution very seriously and was taking measures to improve air quality. More research was under way to examine the extent of the long term effects of air pollution on health.

    The Quantification of the Effects of Air Pollution on Health in the United Kingdom is available from the Stationary Office, price £16.50. An executive summary is available on the internet site: www.open.gov.uk/doh/hef/airpol/airpolh.htm

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