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Air pollution: New study reveals death toll in Yorkshire's towns and cities

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Photo by Friends of the Earth Scotland (Wikimedia Commons).

More than 1 in 24 deaths in Yorkshire's large cities and towns are now linked to air pollution, a study has revealed.

Long-term exposure to air pollution has been identified as a leading cause of death by the Centre for Cities, leading to 21 times as many deaths in the region as traffic accidents.

According to the Centre, around 300 deaths in Sheffield were related to the deadly toxin PM2.5 in 2017.

This figure is the highest for all cities in the region, rivalled only by Leeds with an equal amount of deaths linked to PM2.5.

In total there were an estimated 1,514 PM2.5-related deaths in Yorkshire's large cities and towns in just one year.

"The deadly levels of polluted air in Yorkshire are entirely legal. This needs to change. As a matter of urgency, the government should adopt WHO's stricter guidelines around PM2.5 emissions," said Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of the Centre for Cities. "Failure to act now will lead to more deaths in Yorkshire."

PM2.5 is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. It can be either human-made or naturally occurring, but most PM2.5 in the air is a result of combustion from vehicles, power stations and domestic burning.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), "due to the small size of many of the particles that form PM, some of these toxins may enter the bloodstream and be transported around the body, lodging in the heart, brain and other organs."

People are dying across the country as a result of the air they breathe

The World Health Organization's Air Quality Guidelines for PM10 - a related form of air pollution to PM2.5 - say there is no safe level of PM10 in the atmosphere below which no negative health effects occur.

Centre for Cities has identified a gap in the concentration of some types of air pollution in the poorest and wealthiest areas of Sheffield, highlighting that the most disadvantaged groups often suffer the worst effects of environmental destruction.

In a blog post for the Centre, Valentine Quinio said: "People are dying across the country as a result of the air they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular."

Centre for Cities has called for an end to slow progress from local authority leaders, suggesting that cities in Yorkshire should introduce Ultra Low Emission Zones and ban the use of wood burning stoves and coal fires in areas where air pollution exceeds guidelines.

It has also suggested the government do more to help politicians in Yorkshire act now.

Sheffield City Council has proposed a Clean Air Zone for 2021, however it has not yet acted on its promise to hold a Citizens' Assembly to create a collective response to the climate crisis.

The Council has been approached for comment.

Jo Kamal

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