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The air pollution crisis in the UK

Public health
Mark Greener looks at the latest evidence on the harm caused by the invisible killer

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

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