Pollution from traffic, planes and power stations 'killing 13,000 Britons a year'
Power station emissions have bigger
health impacts in northern England, where emissions from five major
plants tend to congregate
16:25 GMT, 20 April 2012
Pollution from traffic, planes and power stations is killing almost 13,000 Britons a year, researchers claim.
The alarming death toll is more than four times greater than the number killed on the roads.
Emissions from car and lorry exhaust was the single greatest contributor to premature death, affecting some 3,300 people annually. In comparison fewer than 3,000 died in road accidents in the UK in 2005 – the latest data available.
Map: Combustion emissions that have migrated into the United Kingdom from the rest of Europe. Higher concentrations, in red, are found in the South East
After road transport, emissions from shipping and aviation cause 1,800 early deaths annually, followed by those from power plants which are responsible for 1,700.
The study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that emissions originating elsewhere in Europe cause an additional 6,000 early deaths in the UK annually.
In turn UK emissions cause 3,100 premature deaths a year in other EU countries.
In some remote areas – such as northern Scotland – almost all air pollution comes from the rest of Europe, according to the findings published in Environmental Science and Technology.
US researchers carried out the study as London is currently in violation of EU air quality standards set by the EU and the government may face fines if it fails to address the problem.
Professor Steven Barrett, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: 'We wanted to know if the responsibility to maintain air quality was matched by an ability to act or do something about it. The results indicate there is an asymmetry there.'
His team divided emissions into sectors including road transport, power generation, commercial, residential and agricultural sources and other transport, such as shipping and aviation.
They then simulated temperature and wind fields across the UK using a research and forecasting model similar to those used to predict short term weather.
Emissions data was also entered to see how weather might disperse them before a chemistry transport model showed how the atmospheric chemicals from different sectors interacted.
The group finally overlaid their results on population density maps to see which locations had the greatest long term exposure to combustion emissions.
Prof Barrett observed most of the emissions studied were composed of particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, a size that epidemiologists have associated with premature death.
After road transport, emissions from shipping and aviation were the second greatest contributor to premature deaths, causing 1,800 early deaths annually, followed by powerplant emissions, which cause an estimated 1,700 premature deaths each year.
The researchers found power station emissions have bigger health impacts in northern England, where emissions from five major plants tend to congregate.
In London, shipping and aviation pollution had a greater impact, possibly due to the proximity of major airports to the city.
Prof Barrett said power plants, which are mostly north east of major cities and which emit harmful chemicals well above the ground, are less damaging to the general population than other sources of pollution.
In contrast emissions from cars and trucks, which occur closer to where people live and work, pose a more serious risk to human health.
Added Prof Barrett: 'People have a number of risk factors in their life. Air pollution is another risk factor. And it can be significant, especially for people who live in cities.'