Air pollution costs UK urbanites £900 a year – study

Air pollution costs UK city dwellers almost £900 a year each on average, according to a Europe-wide study.

A report for the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) assessed the monetary value of premature death, medical treatment, lost working days and other health costs of pollutants in 432 cities in the EU, UK, Norway and Switzerland.

The study, which examined the impact of the three most dangerous pollutants – particulate matter (PM), ozone and nitrogen dioxide – included 23 UK urban areas in the analysis based on data from 2018.

It suggests that air pollution costs for city residents across Europe amount to 166 billion euros a year (£146 billion at 2018 exchange rates) with a cost of nearly 22 billion euros (£19 billion) in the UK alone.

Big, expensive cities tend to face the highest overall pollution costs due to population density, higher earnings and expenses, the EPHA said.

But cities in central and eastern Europe buck the trend despite lower incomes because they suffer from particularly bad pollution levels.

On average UK city residents face costs of 999 euros each (£880). Londoners, who have a 1,294 euro cost (£1,138), and Bristol dwellers at 1,055 euros (£928) are the country’s worst-affected urbanites on a per person basis.

Even in Norwich, which had the lowest annual damage cost from pollution of the 23 UK cities examined in the study, toxic air costs residents 643 euros (£566) per person per year on average.

The overall cost is also greatest in London with an annual pollution bill of nearly 11.4 billion euros (£10 billion) – the highest of any city in the Europe-wide analysis. But more than 100 European cities have higher per person costs.

The capital is followed by Greater Manchester with a 2.4 billion euro cost (£2.1 billion) and the West Midlands with 1.8 billion euro costs (£1.6 billion).

The analysis suggests the greatest harm comes from PMs, which are generated from sources such as traffic and wood burning stoves and are responsible for about 83% of costs. This is followed by nitrogen dioxide which comes mainly from traffic and contributes 15% of costs.

While air quality has improved across Europe and the UK in recent decades, the European Environment Agency (EEA) warns air pollution still leads to 400,000 early deaths a year.

EPHA acting secretary general Sascha Marschang said: “Our study reveals the magnitude of the damage toxic air is causing to people’s health and the huge health inequalities that exist between and within countries in Europe.

“To a large extent, the situation can be influenced by transport policies and cities can reduce costs by switching to zero-emission urban mobility.

“Governments and the European Union should bear these costs in mind for transport policy in order to support, not to hinder, a healthy recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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