The study, which is believed to be the first long-term, population-wide study into the links between deaths from diseases and atmospheric pollutants, examined figures from all 352 English local authorities.

Researchers found a strong correlation between engine exhaust emissions and pneumonia deaths.

The study estimated that every year, pollution-related pneumonia kills nearly as many people as the 1952 London smog.

Lewisham had the highest number of pollution-related pneumonia deaths, while Berwick-upon-Tweed had the lowest.

The research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology, also identified a link with deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and rheumatic heart disease.

Lead author Professor George Knox, of Birmingham University, told edie that more research needed to be done to investigate the link.

He said: “Some local authorities are doing local air pollution monitoring and I would like to see that extended to see how well it corresponds with other data.

“I would like to see local health authorities plotting where pneumonia cases are for different age groups and different types, because some are clearly bacterial or viral, and some are chemical.”

The British Lung Foundation also said it wanted to see more detailed research carried out.

Spokesperson Dr Richard Hubbard added: “What this paper does show, however, is that there is clear geographical variation in deaths from pneumonia, lung cancer and COPD.

“This would suggest that social factors such as deprivation and smoking, and possibly pollution are important and that there is great potential to prevent deaths from lung disease.”

Professor Knox said he hoped that identification of the link between pneumonia and exhaust emissions may eventually lead to policy changes, such as building hospitals and care homes further away from air pollution hotspots.

Kate Martin

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