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The air pollution crisis in the UK

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Figure 1 Nitrogen dioxide pollutes the air Figure 1: Nitrogen dioxide pollutes the air mainly as a result of the combustion of fossil fuel in industrial processes

You can image the plume of pollution hanging over the UK from space. Measurements gathered by the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite between April and September 2018 show particularly high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over London, Paris, Brussels, western Germany, Milan and Moscow (figure 1).

Back on earth, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) estimates that about 15 million people in the UK live in areas where average air pollution levels exceed the limits in guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO). ‘Almost a quarter of the population are likely to be risking their health, just by breathing the air around them,’ the charity warns in a recent report.1 The BHF suggests that living in areas of the UK with the worst air pollution ‘could be as deadly as smoking over 150 cigarettes each year’.2

After all, an adult inhales about 11,000 litres of air per day.3 Along with oxygen, we breathe in a toxic cocktail of gases such as ozone, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and NO2. The BHF estimates air pollution accounts for up to 11,000 UK deaths from heart and circulatory diseases a year.1

CVD and asthma


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