London | Around 50,000 people die every year in the UK across England and Wales due to unfit breathing air caused by pollution from cars, trucks and buses, according to a new research.
This death toll is far higher than the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents, which stood at 1,713 in 2013.
Dr Tim Chatterton and Prof Graham Parkhurst from the Bristol-based University of the West of England conducted the study to be presented at the ongoing Royal Geographical Society here.
Their work concludes that the lack of improvement in air quality over the past 20 years is as a result of UK transport planners not taking the environmental impact of transport as seriously as road safety, even though the death toll from pollution is clearly the bigger risk.
“Air pollution is the grossest manifestation of a failure of UK transport planning to take the environmental impacts of transport choices sufficiently into account,” said Parkhurst.
“Currently, air pollution is a shared priority between DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and the Department for Transport, but shared priority does not mean equal priority. Transport policy and planning has instead prioritised safety and economic growth,” she said.
They also claimed there were limited regulatory and financial support for alternative transport and for local authorities seeking to introduce air improvement measures such as low emissions zones.
Their report warns that the existing vehicle fleet is being replaced so slowly that reduced vehicle use is the only way to bring about changes in pollution levels.
This will mean a huge push to encourage walking and cycling, measures that would also help combat obesity.
“Air pollution-related morbidity and mortality are at epidemic levels – and, although less obvious, are more significant than road transport collisions as a cause of death and injury,” Chatterton said.
“There needs to be a strong political and societal commitment to protect public health, particularly the health of children, whose life chances can be seriously compromised by exposure to air pollution.
“This will require not just improvements in transport infrastructure, but also changes across society in our expectations of how we, and those we connect with, get around.
“The report calls for poor air quality to be promoted as a public health issue across the UK,” he said.
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