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A statue of Queen Victoria in Bristol, UK wears a gas mask as part of a protest against pollution levels in the city

Study confirms adverse health effects of bad air in Bristol

Image credit: Dreamstime

A new research study has calculated that 260 people a year die prematurely from the effects of Bristol's poor air quality.

The study by researchers at King’s College London suggests that around 260 people die each year from the effects of nitrogen dioxide in the air of the UK’s eighth-largest city. The study was published as Bristol's mayor hosted an air pollution summit this Monday.

The research looked at the combined impact of PM2.5 particulates, which are mainly generated when domestic wood and coal are burned as well as a result of industrial combustion, and nitrogen dioxide emitted by older polluting vehicles.

The 2019 Air Quality annual status report by the city published last June stated that the main pollutants the city struggles with are nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. 

"Monitoring in Bristol shows that we are currently in breach of the annual objective for nitrogen dioxide and probably the hourly objective, set at 40µg/m3 and 200µg/m3, with a permissible 18 hours per year above the 200µg/m3 limit allowed, respectively,” that report said.

Despite the city’s stated ambition in the report to clean up its air via a 'Clean Air Plan’, or by starting major infrastructure projects such as Metrobus, or the "engagement in behavioural change initiatives such as workplace travel planning", progress over the past years seems to have slowed.

E&T found that among UK local authorities, Bristol ranked 121st in its population-weighted annual average in anthropogenic pm2.5 levels for 2018 – six places lower than in 2012.

According to health experts, these fine particles of particulate matter of PM2.5 pose the greatest health risk. Between 2012 and 2018, Bristol increased its anthropogenic PM2.5 level - used for health burden calculations - by 4 per cent from 9.106µg/m3 in 2012 to 9.4724µg/m3 in 2018. 

The city announced plans to address air pollution, by proposing a ban of diesel cars from central areas between 7am and 3pm from 2021 on, but the plans are still subject to government approval and consultation with residents and businesses.

Also, the number of sites in Bristol that exceeded annual compliance levels of 40µg/m3 remains at a concerning level. 45 were counted for 2018, although this is half the number found in 2010, according to Opendata.bristol.gov.uk

Bristol is not alone there. Recent government data submitted to the EU revealed that 83 per cent of reporting zones in the UK presented illegal levels in air pollution.

Poor air quality is especially bad for vulnerable members of the population and could cost the government a fortune. The annual health cost to society of the impacts of particulate matter in the UK has been estimated at around £16bn.

Bad air quality was found to trigger permanent lung damage in babies and young children and exacerbates lung and heart disease in older people. 

Detailed effects for Bristol show the cost to the health system. One recent report into the health effects of air pollution in Bristol found that around 300 premature deaths would occur each year in the City of Bristol, attributable to exposure to NO2 and PM2.5, with roughly an equal number attributable to both pollutants - accounting for about 8.5 per cent of deaths in the administrative area of Bristol due to air pollution. It would costs the NHS an estimated £83m.

David Dajnak, the principal air-quality scientist in the environmental research group at King’s College London, said: “This report shows that more needs to be done to address the level of threat air pollution poses to health in Bristol.

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