Research shows link between income and pollution

Significantly more polluting factories are to be found in areas with low average household incomes than in well off areas, according to research published by Friends of the Earth (FoE).

Using data from FoE’s ‘Factorywatch’ project, and income data for every postcode sector in the UK, the research shows that:

  There are 662 polluting factories in the UK in areas with average household income of less than £15,000, and only 5 in postcode areas where average household income is £30,000 or more

  The more factories in an area, the lower the average income. In Teesside, one area has 17 large factories. Average income in the area is just £6,200 – 64% less than the national average


The poorest families (defined as household incomes of less than £5,000) are twice as likely to have a polluting factory in their immediate area as families with an income of £60,000 or more

  In London, over 90% of polluting factories are in areas with below average income, and in the North East, the figure is over 80%

  In 1996 (the latest available data), the factory with the worst record in the UK (Associated Octel in the South Wirral) released more than 5,300 tonnes of carcinogens into the air.

FoE has called on the UK Government to give the environment a higher priority when designing policies to tackle poverty and urban deprivation.

The UK is a signatory of WHO’s European Charter on Public Health which states that “the health of every individual, especially those in vulnerable and high-risk groups, must be protected. Special attention should be given to disadvantaged groups”.

In 1998, Public Health Minister Tessa Jowell admitted that “more people suffer from poor health in the most deprived areas due to a range of factors including … pollution.”

FoE is calling for an 80% reduction in the amount of hazardous material released to air, water and land by 2005. FoE also wants a programme of comprehensive health studies around major sources of pollution.

“Clearly, it is the poorest who are hit hardest by industrial pollution,” said FOE Senior Pollution Campaigner Mike Childs. “On top of unemployment and deprivation, these communities face the grime and ill-health caused by industrial pollution. Here, the environment is as far from a middle class concern as it can get.

“The Government has yet to put forward any plans to tackle pollution injustice. Until they do, the poorer members of our society will continue to suffer from dangerous levels of pollution. Social exclusion can’t be properly tackled unless the environment is put right at the top of the agenda.”

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