Almost 9,500 people were killed by air pollution in London in 2010 – the nearest available year of data – with as many as 5,900 deaths caused by long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide pollution (NO2).

The London report is a world-first, with the city using updated methods to quantify the health and economic impacts of NO2 pollution. The findings suggest many of the health effects were caused by pollution from outside of London, particularly those deaths due to particulate matter.

Johnson has called for urgent action by the Government to curb UK air pollution, including issuing renewed demands to stop the expansion of Heathrow airport.

Johnson said: “This is a snapshot of the true impact of air pollutants on our health. My greatest priority remains to protect the well-being and environment of Londoners, and this scientific evidence will ensure we have all the information needed to continue delivering comprehensive measures that bring real change.”

The Mayor’s office added Mr Johnson believes the Government must take the first steps to tackling the health effects associated with air pollution and Now, starting with ruling out Heathrow’s third runway.

“I’ve been criticised for cleaning up taxis, upgrading bus fleets and my plans for the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone in 2020, but this study shows imperatively why these bold measures are required,” said Johnson.

“I need the help and strong support of the Government and the EU to effectively win London’s pollution battle and target the enormous amount of toxic air transported into our great capital internationally.”

New EU law?

The report comes as MEPs from the European Parliament’s Environment Committee called for tougher binding targets on deadly air pollution, following a narrowly-won vote on deadly air pollutants.

The Committee voted 38 to 28 in favour of new measures which would issue binding national targets for deadly pollutants to be met by 2030, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, methane and particulate matter and volatile organic compounds.

Further binding targets were also added to for 2025 for all pollutants except methane.

The MEPs argued meeting the targets could prevent up to 74,000 premature deaths each year and save health services up to £98bn.

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder said: “Strict limits on the most deadly pollutants will force governments to improve air quality across the board, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds.”

As many as 29,000 deaths are thought to occur as a result of air pollution in the UK each year.

‘A scandal’

Reacting to the London report’s findings, Friends of the Earth’s London campaigner Jenny Bates called the deaths “a scandal”.

“It’s time to stop tinkering around the edges,” said Bates. “A bold and urgent action plan is desperately needed to tackle London’s illegal air quality. A transport revolution is required to clean up the capital’s vehicles, cut traffic levels and improve public transport, cycling and walking.”

Research for the Mayor’s report was carried out by academics from the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London. Report author Dr Heather Walton said: “The health evidence on the health effects of nitrogen dioxide has strengthened in recent years, including evidence linking long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide with mortality.”

The Mayor’s office predicts improvements to London’s air quality through the planned Ultra Low Emissions Zone and additional hybrid and electric buses could reduce the number of people living in areas of poor air quality by 54% by 2020.

Matt Field

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