High Pollution Days Have More Strokes and Heart Attacks
Days of extreme air pollution result in higher incidences of strokes and heart attacks, according to a new study compiled by King’s College London. After analysing the data collected by sophisticated new air quality monitoring technologies in cities across England, the researchers concluded that high-pollution days led to increased hospital admissions, with NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens saying the results constituted evidence of “a health emergency”.
The study demonstrates that while air pollution does indeed have well-documented long-term effects on the human body, it can also have devastating short-term consequences as well. It’s believed that poor air quality contributes to roughly half a million premature deaths across Europe each year and these latest statistics only add to the urgency of what environmentalists have been saying for decades – Britain desperately needs to clean up its airways.
To reach their conclusions, the team from King’s College London looked at air quality data from Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton. They cross-referenced that information against calls made to the emergency services, meaning their study does not include those people who suffered cardiac complications while already in hospital.
Even so, the figures are damning. Days on which pollution levels were elevated saw 124 more heart attacks throughout the year, while strokes rose by 231 and hospital admissions of both children and adults through incidents related to asthma increased by 193. The links between air pollution and asthma are well-known, but this is one of the first studies to correlate direct hospital admissions with poor air quality.
Unsurprisingly, the UK capital was the location where the discrepancy was most notable. Heart attacks in London jumped up by 87 every year, while strokes rose by a whopping 144 and asthma-related issues by 107. That means that London accounts for 70%, 62% and 55% of hospital admission increases, respectively, though every city except for Derby saw hikes on days of high pollution.
Urgent action needed
Speaking about the study, Stevens said that it constituted clear proof that urgent action was now required to tackle the problem. “It's clear that the climate emergency is in fact also a health emergency,” he commented. “Since these avoidable deaths are happening now - not in 2025 or 2050 - together we need to act now.”
The study did offer some positive insights, as well. For example, it concluded that a 20% reduction in air pollution would bring down diagnoses of lung cancer by between 5% and 7% in the nine cities assessed during the study. It provides yet more evidence – if any was needed – that top-down initiatives from the government and big business are needed to address the issue and prevent more Britons from dying untimely deaths due to wholly avoidable issues.
For its part, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) claimed it was doing everything it could to tackle the air quality crisis, including the investment of £3.5 billion to clean up our airways. However, critics say that the government’s plans are not specific enough and do not go far enough to effect meaningful change, with environmental law firm ClientEarth already having taken them to court (and won) on two previous occasions.
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