One in 20 deaths in England caused by air pollution - these are the areas worst affected by dirty air

With pollution estimated to cause between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year in the UK, we look at the regions of England worst affected by deadly dirty air.

Most of the areas worst affected by air pollution-attributable deaths are in London - but there are vast differences between the worst and least affected areas in each English region

People in England can be more than three times more likely to die because of air pollution depending on where they live, new analysis shows.

To mark Clean Air Day on 17 June, NationalWorld looked into Public Health England data on the proportion of deaths attributable to human-made air pollution.

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The figures show that more than one in 20 deaths (5.1%) among people aged 30 and over in 2019 were due to dirty air.

The data measures deaths associated with long-term exposure to particulate matter, or PM2.5, which are tiny liquid or solid particles with a diameter about 3% of the width of a human hair. It does not include other types of harmful air pollution such as nitrogen oxide.

But the figure ranges from 7% in Newham in London to 2.6% in Allerdale in the North West. That means people in the inner London borough are three times more likely to die of pollution compared to those living in Allerdale, which is in the northern corner of Cumbria.

The lowest rate was in the Isles of Scilly, at 2.2%, which is 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall.

Which areas have the worst pollution?

London dominates the list of areas with the highest deaths due to pollution.

Across the city as a whole, 6.4% of deaths are caused by pollution. That was 1.8 times higher than in the North East, the least affected region, where 3.6% of deaths were linked to PM2.5.

The proportion of deaths attributable to pollution in each region is:

Region Proportion of deaths
North East 3.6%
South West 4.1%
North West 4.5%
Yorkshire and the Humber 4.8%
South East 5.2%
West Midlands 5.3%
East Midlands 5.3%
East of England 5.5%
London 6.4%

But within every region of England there are large gaps between the council areas least and worst affected by pollution.

East Midlands

The most deaths in the East Midlands are in Leicester, where 5.8% are due to pollution. That is followed closely by Nottingham and Derby (5.7%), Erewash (5.6%) and Broxtowe, Blaby and Charnwood (5.5%).

Least affected are the more rural areas in Derbyshire – High Peak and the Derbyshire Dales – but almost one in 20 deaths there are still down to pollution (4.6% and 4.7% respectively).

West Midlands

Worst affected in the West Midlands is Sandwell, with 6% of deaths. In Walsall 6% of deaths are also due to pollution, although Sandwell is slightly worse hit when the figures are unrounded.

Shropshire was least affected, with 4.1% of deaths down to dirty air.

North West

Of deaths in the Manchester council area, 5.2% were down to pollution, making it the worst hit area in the North West. In Tameside, 5.2% of deaths were also attributable to pollution, followed by Salford and Stockport, on 5.1%.

The area with the smallest proportion of pollution deaths was Allerdale (2.6%) followed by Edan (also 2.6%).

North East

The North East had the lowest proportion of deaths due to pollution. Within the region, worst-impacted was Middlesbrough, with 4.4% of deaths, and least affected was Northumberland, at 3.1%

Yorkshire and the Humber

Hull saw the highest proportion of deaths due to pollution in Yorkshire, at 5.2%, followed very closely by Rotherham, also on 5.2%.

Richmondshire was least affected, on 3.3%,

South West

In the South West, the highest proportion of deaths attributable to air pollution was in Gloucester, at 5.1%.

On the mainland, Cornwall was least affected, with 2.9% of deaths caused by pollution.

South East

Two areas in the South East – Slough and Dartford – were very nearly neck and neck, with 6.3% of deaths in each attributable to PM2.5 pollution.

On the other end of the spectrum was New Forest, with 4.1% of deaths.

East of England

In the East of England, 6.2% of deaths in the town of Luton were due to pollution. In Watford, on the edge of London, the figure was 6%.

Least affected was North Norfolk. Here 5% of deaths were attributable to dirty air.

London

London was the worst affected region of England, and home to the top 21 areas with the highest proportion of deaths.

Top of the pile was Newham on 7%. The City of London was at 6.9%, although there is only a very small resident population in this tiny borough.

The lowest proportion of pollution-attributable deaths in the city was in Bromley at 5.7%, which was still higher than in the worst-affected areas of four out of the other eight English regions.

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What causes air pollution?

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the main threat to clean air is traffic emissions.

PM2.5 pollution is also caused by burning fuels for industry or for domestic heating, such as wood burning stoves.

DEFRA says levels of most industrial and domestic pollution is steady or improving, but traffic pollution is worsening world-wide.

How does dirty air kill people?

Public Health England says poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK.

Long-term exposure can cause chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as lung cancer.

It can also exacerbate existing conditions.

In December a coroner made history by declaring that the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, from Lewisham in South East London, was caused by air pollution.

The schoolgirl died of acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and exposure to air pollution in excess of World Health Organisation guidelines caused by traffic emissions.

In 2013, the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants estimated that air pollution in the UK caused between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths, amounting to between 328,000 and 416,000 years of life lost.

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