One in 23 deaths in Greater Manchester is linked to long-term exposure to air pollution, new research shows.

Research from Centre for Cities has revealed that one in 23 (4.3%) deaths in Greater Manchester is linked to long-term exposure to air pollution. The only area in the North West with a higher proportion of air pollution-related deaths is Liverpool at 4.6%.

Centre for Cities annual study of UK urban areas, Cities Outlook 2020, also found that deaths related to air pollution are 21 times higher in the North West than deaths in traffic accidents.

Among other pollutants, the study estimated the proportion of deaths from PM2.5 – airborne particulate matter smaller than 0.0025mm in diameter. It can be made up of natural or man-made material, such as dust, ash, or partially-combusted hydrocarbons (found in exhaust fumes).
Although the proportion of deaths related to the deadly toxin PM2.5 is highest in cities and large towns in the South East; outside of London, cities and large towns in the North West have the largest numbers of estimated PM2.5 related deaths in the UK.

UK air pollution limits fall short of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, which are routinely breached in UK cities and towns. On several occasions, the UK has been defeated in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over illegal levels of air pollution.

While national and international limits are imposed, there is no safe level of PM2.5. The biggest impact of particulate air pollution on public health is understood to be from long-term exposure to PM2.5, which increases the age-specific mortality risk, particularly from cardiovascular causes. However, a recent study by the Forum of International Respiratory Societies’ Environmental Committee found that air pollution may have harmful effects on more of the body’s systems than previously thought.

Transport is a significant, but not sole contributor to air pollution; burning fuels is also a major cause. For example, half of deadly PM2.5 toxins generated in cities and large towns come from sources such as wood burning stoves and coal fires.

According to the Centre for Cities, councils in the North West should:

  • Introduce Ultra Low Emission Zones to charge car and van drivers in city centres.
  • Ban the use of wood burning stoves and coal fires in areas where air pollution exceeds guidelines.

The Centre for Cities also details steps that should be taken by national government to help politicians in the North West act. It should:

  • Adopt the WHO’s stricter guidelines on PM2.5 – as the Scottish Government has already done – and make a legally binding commitment to meet this by 2030 at     the latest.
  • Triple the size of the Clean Air Fund to £660 million to help cities fight air pollution.
  • Provide financial incentives for cities to improve air quality through the establishment of an Environmental Impact Bond.
  • Make securing plans with the EU to tackle cross border air pollution a key component of the future relationship.

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said:

“More than half of people in the UK live in cities and large towns. And while they offer people good employment and lifestyle opportunities Cities Outlook 2020 shows that they also having a damaging effect on their health, with air pollution killing thousands of people living in cities every year.

“Politicians often talk tough on addressing air pollution but we need to see more action. People in the North West should be at the centre of the fight against its toxic air and councils should take the steps needed, including charging people to drive in city centres and banning wood burning stoves.

“To help the Government needs to provide the North West’s councils with extra money and introduce stricter guidelines. The deadly levels of polluted air in the North West are entirely legal. This needs to change. As a matter of urgency the Government should adopt WHO’s stricter guidelines around PM2.5 emissions. Failure to act now will lead to more deaths in the North West.”


Katy Preen

You can read the full Cities Outlook 2020 report here
Feature image: Katy Preen

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  • Kacy Preen

    Kacy is co-editor and organiser at The Meteor, and has lived in Manchester for 20+ years. They are interested in local politics and property development. Kacy is a member of the Trans Journalists Association.