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Dirty air affects 97% of UK homes, data show | Air pollution

Virtually every home in the UK is exposed to air pollution above the World Health Organization guidelines, according to the most detailed map of dirty air to date.

More than 97% of addresses exceed WHO limits for at least one of three major pollutants, while 70% of addresses exceed WHO limits for all three.

The map, produced by the non-profit group Central Office of Public Interest (Copi) and Imperial College London, combined 20,000 measurements with computer modeling to produce pollution estimates every 20 meters across the country. People can check their address on the website for free.

The website also ranks each address according to national pollution levels. For example, Buckingham Palace in London is in the 98th percentile with heavily polluted air, while Balmoral Castle in Scotland is in the zero percentile with the cleanest air.

The cities with the highest share of housing among the 10% most polluted nationwide are Slough in Berkshire with 90% followed by London with 66%. Others in the top 10 include Portsmouth, Leeds, Manchester and Reading.

Diagram showing the proportion of homes in the top 10 most polluted places

Copi calls for a legal requirement that air pollution data must be passed on to home buyers and tenants, as is already the case with, for example, asbestos. ‘Air pollution affects us all. With this new accurate data now publicly available, it would be a shame for the real estate industry not to start acting transparently – life depends on it, “said Humphrey Milles, founder of Copi, which promotes public information campaigns on topics such as the says being neglected. by the government.

The WHO sharply reduced its indicative limits for air pollution in September to reflect the growing scientific evidence for the health damage caused by toxic air. A 2019 review concluded that air pollution can damage all organs in the body and cause at least 7 million premature deaths a year worldwide and around 40,000 in the UK. WHO says air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to human health and is a public health emergency.

The UK’s legal limit for nitrogen dioxide is four times higher than the new WHO limit, but is still not met in most urban areas. The country’s legal limit for small particles smaller than 2.5 microns in size (PM2.5) is five times higher than the WHO limit, while the UK limit for PM10 is 2.7 times higher.

Air pollution campaigner Rosamund Kissi-Debrah said: “This new data shows once again that the government is failing the British public. Now people can really see the dirty air they breathe in their home, school or workplace. Everyone needs to know what they are breathing, and now they can with this new public service. ”

Kissi-Debrah’s nine-year-old daughter Ella died in 2013, and a landmark forensic ruling later cited air pollution as a cause of death. The forensic pathologist then issued an official “report to prevent future deaths” in April 2021, which said: “Greater awareness [of air pollution] will help individuals reduce their personal exposure to air pollution. Disclosure of this information is a problem that needs to be addressed by both national and local authorities. “

Prof Sir Stephen Holgate, Special Adviser on Air Pollution to the Royal College of Physicians, said: “Air pollution is an invisible killer and it is easy for people to forget and ignore. It is important that the public get air pollution data for where they are thinking to buy or rent. In many cases, as for little Ella, it can be a matter of life or death. “

Rebecca Marsh, the UK’s property ombudsman, said: “Air pollution is information that all consumers should be aware of before making a decision on a specific property. It is undoubtedly essential information that all sellers or landlords should provide.”

The map shows annual average pollution levels for 2019, the last year unaffected by Covid-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions. Even using the previous higher WHO guidelines, 55% of UK addresses would still exceed the limit of at least one of the three pollutants.

Sean Beevers, a researcher at Imperial College, said: “It’s not just a London problem, so people should think more about air pollution. What had previously been seen as reasonable levels has now been thrown out the window.”

Beevers said, however, that the models were not perfect and warned against seeing places with slightly higher estimates of air pollution as necessarily worse than nearby places with slightly lower pollution.

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