Air pollution spikes trigger 'hundreds of extra heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks'

21 October 2019, 09:33

Extinction Rebellion protesters demonstrate against air pollution levels in London
Extinction Rebellion protesters demonstrate against air pollution levels in London. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Spikes in air pollution trigger hundreds of heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks, causing a “health emergency,” according to new research.

A study by King's College London found air pollution contributes to up to 36,000 deaths every year, as well as causing significant short-term health risks.

The study found on high pollution days - days when pollutant levels were in the top half of the annual range - there were an extra 124 cardiac arrests on average.

It also found there was an average of 231 additional hospital admissions for stroke, with an extra 193 children and adults hospitalised for asthma.

Data was taken from nine English cities - London, Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton.

On high pollution days an extra 193 children and adults were hospitalised for asthma
On high pollution days an extra 193 children and adults were hospitalised for asthma. Picture: PA

The figure discounts cardiac arrests suffered by patients already in hospital and is based on ambulance call data.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, described the numbers as "a health emergency".

"As 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," he said.

"Since these avoidable deaths are happening now - not in 2025 or 2050 - together we need to act now."

The risk was found to be greatest in London, where high pollution days cause an extra 87 cardiac arrests on average, an extra 144 strokes as well as 74 children and 33 adults hospitalised for asthma.

Birmingham saw the second highest risk, with 12 more out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, 27 more admissions for stroke, with 15 extra children and 11 adults hospitalised for asthma.

Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton saw between two and six additional out-of-hospital heart attacks on high pollution days.

These cities saw an uptick of between two and 14 extra hospitalisations for stroke, and up to 14 extra admissions for asthma.

The research also found cutting air pollution by a fifth would decrease incidents of lung cancer by between 5 per cent and 7 per cent across the nine cities surveyed.

Dr Heather Walton, health expert on the project at Environmental Research Group, King's College London, said: "The impact of air pollution on our health has been crucial in justifying air pollution reduction policies for some time, and mostly concentrates on effects connected to life-expectancy.

"However, health studies show clear links with a much wider range of health effects."

The figures were published ahead of the International Clean Air Summit this Wednesday hosted by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the UK100 this week.

The UK100 is a network of local government leaders, who have pledged to help their communities shift to 100 per cent clean energy by 2050.

The full report is due to be published in November.

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