Scores of children and adults are being rushed to hospital for emergency treatment on days of high pollution in cities across England, figures show.
Each year emergency services see more than 120 additional cardiac arrests, more than 230 additional strokes and nearly 200 more people with asthma requiring hospital treatment on days of high pollution compared with the average on days of lower pollution.Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said: “These new figures show air pollution is now causing thousands of strokes, cardiac arrests and asthma attacks, so it’s clear that the climate emergency is in fact also a health emergency. Since these avoidable deaths are happening now, not in 2025 or 2050, together we need to act now.”
Previous studies have found spikes in hospital admissions and GP visits on days of high pollution, but the new data gives precise numbers for nine English cities and shows a clear relationship between heart attacks, strokes and respiratory illnesses and dirty air.
The data, collated by King’s College London (KCL), covers London, where there are 338 more emergencies a year on higher pollution days compared with low pollution days, Birmingham (65 a year), Bristol (22), Derby (16), Liverpool (28), Manchester (34), Nottingham (19), Oxford (10) and Southampton (16).
Jenny Bates, an air pollution campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Many people may not realise how dangerous air pollution at high levels can be, and that it can trigger heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks as well as having long-term health effects. These figures will be a wake-up call for city leaders to take the strongest possible action.”
By homing in on hospital admissions for cardiac arrests, strokes and asthma, the researchers were able to provide a clearer picture of the acute impacts on people and how emergency services are affected. “This provides additional evidence of the important need for further action to reduce air pollution,” Walton said.
Bates said clean air zones were needed, but also measures to cut all traffic “because all vehicles produce deadly fine particle air pollution from brake and tyre wear. This way the air pollution health crisis and the climate emergency can be addressed together, helping to make our cities and towns healthier and more attractive.”Heather Walton, a health expert with the environmental research group at KCL, said the study was intended to provide more detail than others that have tended to concentrate on the effects of air pollution on life expectancy, such as estimates that pollution contributes to 36,000 deaths a year in the UK.
Last week Europe’s environmental watchdog found that little or no progress had been made across Europe on cutting levels of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, which is one of the most dangerous forms of pollution because it can lodge deep in the lungs and penetrate the bloodstream.