Concerns over air quality: Tower Hamlets at risk

Air pollution contributes to health risks in London boroughs. Pic: Alfred Palmer

Air pollution contributes to health risks. Pic: Alfred Palmer

Tower Hamlets ranked most often as the worst affected borough for certain diseases, according to a recent data analysis highlighting which diseases are most likely to kill Londoners.

Clean Air in London commissioned the Office for National Statistics to rank the top ten death categories for every London borough for each year between 2001 and 2012.

Between 2010 and 2012, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Hackney were among ten boroughs which appeared most often in the three worst affected areas for the top ten death categories.

Clean Air in London said air pollution was one of the exposure categories responsible for the top four male death categories and four out of the top five for females in London. The categories were: ischaemic heart diseases; malignant neoplasm of trachea; bronchus and lung, chronic lower respiratory diseases; and cerebrovascular diseases.

In 2012, Tower Hamlets was worst affected by three death categories in males: ischaemic heart diseases (e.g. heart attacks), chronic lower respiratory diseases and cerebrovascular diseases (e.g. strokes) in males. The borough was also worst affected by three categories for females: heart attacks, strokes and malignant neoplasm of the colon, sigmoid, rectum and anus.

A spokesperson from Tower Hamlets council said: “We have amongst the highest death rates from heart disease, stroke, cancer and chronic lung disease. The council has prioritised programmes which will have a significant impact on addressing the risk factors associated with these diseases, which include smoking, obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity and alcohol misuse.”

In reference to Tower Hamlets having one of the highest levels of deprivation in the country, the spokesperson added: “The link between deprivation and poor health is another reason why the council is acting to help residents affected by welfare reforms.”

Malignant neoplasm of the trachea, bronchus and lung and malignant neoplasm of the bladder were the most commonly found diseases affecting men in Hackney.

Men in Lewisham were most badly affected by one death category: dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, while diseases of the urinary system were shown to have the highest effect on females in this borough.

Croydon appeared as the third worst affected area for death category malignant neoplasms of lymphoid, haematopoietic and related tissue in males.

NO2 air pollution in London 2012 Pic: The London Air Quality Network at King’s College London

NO2 air pollution in London 2012 Pic: The London Air Quality Network at King’s College London

Jean Lambert, London’s Greet Party MEP, said: “These numbers are upsetting and should be a wake up-call for policy-makers at all levels. Poor air quality, mostly caused by diesel exhaust fumes, is now responsible for more premature deaths than either alcoholism or obesity, and East London is one of the worst-affected areas of the UK.”

Lambert said the government and Mayor of London needed to enforce “tough new rules limiting air pollution”.

She added: “Instead they are doing exactly the opposite – calling on the EU to weaken air quality legislation – and East Londoners are paying the ultimate price.”

Clean Air in London said, that except for Bexley and Camden, ‘heatmaps’ show that every London borough appeared at least once in the ranking of the three worst boroughs for each death category in the last three years.

Along with the three ELL boroughs, the other areas appearing most often in the ranking were Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Haringey, Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, Newham and Southwark.

Simon Birkett, founder and director of Clean Air in London, said: “In London and across Europe, air pollution is killing more than 10 times the number of people dying from road traffic accidents.”

Birkett said London authorities needed to act to protect people from the effects of air pollution: “The huge variation in death rates for different death categories across boroughs may raise serious questions about inequalities and the competence and culpability of London authorities. Politicians and officials must stop saying behind closed doors they don’t want to frighten the public about air pollution and do something to warn and protect people and reduce air pollution quickly.”

Dr Sam Everington, a local GP and chair of NHS Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “Taking control of your health and attending an NHS Health Check can significantly reduce people’s risk of developing serious health problems in the future, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and even some forms of dementia.”

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