Six out of seven UK areas have levels of harmful air pollution higher than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) ‘safe’ limit.
Data published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and analysed by NationalWorld shows 333 out of 383 (87%) of local authority areas in the UK recorded potentially dangerous levels of PM2.5 pollution in 2020 above WHO’s recommended limits.
PM2.5 is ‘fine particulate matter’ – tiny solid or liquid particles that can pass through the lungs and into the body’s organs, causing a range of illnesses such as asthma, heart disease and lung cancer. It can be naturally occurring, such as from dust or forest fires, or produced by burning fuels.
It is measured in micrograms per cubic metre of air, with WHO stating concentrations of the particles should not exceed five micrograms per cubic metre on average annually.
The organisation’s ‘safe’ limit guidelines were updated last September, dropping the number by 50% from the previous 10 micrograms per cubic metre – although the legal limit in the UK is 25 micrograms.
There is no truly safe level of exposure to PM2.5 however, according to the British Lung Foundation.
The worst-affected areas of the UK are concentrated around London, DEFRA’s figures show, with all but one of the 20 highest pollution levels recorded in the city.
But many areas outside of the capital also have very high levels of particulate pollution, especially across the South East.
Annual concentration across the country ranges from 2.2 micrograms 10.6.
These are the 15 areas outside of London with the highest average concentrations of PM2.5 particles in 2020.