Tower Hamlets has worst record in London for deaths linked to pollution claims charity

Pollution over London Pic: shirokazan

Residents in Tower Hamlets are most likely to fall ill or die from lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases which are linked to pollution levels, according to new figures from a leading charity.

Data from the Asthma + Lung charity for 2020-21 showed that Tower Hamlets had 622.66 emergency admissions for respiratory and 138 respiratory deaths. Lewisham had the seventh highest rate with 671.27 admissions and 92 deaths, followed by Hackney being in the top eight with 622.66 admissions and 99 deaths. Croydon was in 13th place with 548.08 admissions and 90 deaths. Greenwich and Bexleyheath, two other boroughs neighbouring Lewisham were second and third on the list.

According to the NHS, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common condition among middle-aged or older adults who smoke and cause breathing difficulties due to air sacs being damaged in the lungs or airways having long-term inflammation. Other common pollution related conditions include influenza and pneumonia.

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive at Asthma + Lung UK, told ELL:  “It’s appalling that people across London are struggling to breathe, are being rushed to hospital in an emergency and that so many are dying avoidably from their lung conditions."

She added: "We know that people in more deprived areas are more likely to have worse lung health, often with no choice but to live in more polluted areas, with poorer quality housing and higher smoking rates. We need to tackle the lung health lottery head-on."

The air that humans are breathing is made of a mixture of solids and liquids, such as carbons, chemicals, sulphates, nitrates, mineral dust and water. Some of these are more dangerous than others. For example particles such as dust, soot, dirt or smoke are dark and large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Air pollution affects our health in several complexed ways. Concerns about children's present and future health have been raised in recent years, as the number of residents in the most polluted boroughs of London started increasing every year.

Earlier in January, the Government set new clean air targets for levels of fine particulate pollution, PM10 and PM2.5, which are the most harmful types of pollution particles to humans. These are invisible and small enough to get into our organs through our lungs and bloodstream. PM10 and PM2.5 particles cause long-term illnesses such as asthma, COPD, coronary heart disease, stroke and can even develop into lung cancer.

The World Health Organisation recommended 5 μg/mof PM2.5. The government set a new target of 10 or less micrograms per cubic meter in the ambient air annually, and this target must be reached by 2040. This is too late, according to the Asthma + Lung charity, which has warned that such delays might impact children's future health negatively and even cause lives.

Woolnough said: “Air pollution is a public health emergency which causes 36,000 premature deaths in the UK every year." She added: "Despite a valiant effort from the charity’s supporters, the government has ignored our calls to bring forward its compliance date, and instead has said it will make our air cleaner by 2040. This falls far short of what’s needed – it means that for another 17 years, children will be forced to live, learn and play in toxic levels of air pollution, and a new generation will be condemned to breathe in air so dirty it can stunt their lung growth, cause lung conditions like cancer and trigger existing conditions including asthma."

Last month, ELL reported on the tenth anniversary of the first official death from air pollution. Nine-year-old Ella Roberta Adoo Kissi Debrah from Lewisham died in 2013 of a fatal asthma attack caused by excessive air pollution in London. Her family lived just 25 meters from South Circular, which is one of the busiest roads in London. She was the first person ever in the UK to have air pollution as a cause of death written on their death certificate and her mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah has since mounted a long campaign for tougher measures to improve air quality in London.

Rosamund and her daughter Ella Roberta. Pic: Rosamund Adoo Kissi-Debrah
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah and her daughter Ella Roberta, who died in 2013. Pic: Rosamund Adoo Kissi-Debrah

Lewisham was the seventh biggest borough in London by the rate of respiratory admissions combined with mortality. The levels of PM2.5 in the air in Lewisham were registered to be more than 8.6, according to Asthma + Lung Charity.

Lewisham released 689,513 tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2020. Last week, the Lewisham council announced plans on improving energy efficiency for its council homes resulting in lower carbon emissions and thereafter improving the air quality in the borough.

The council has secured nearly £3m from the Government Social Housing Decarbonatization Fund for retrofitting its 159 council homes.   Councillor Louise Krupski, Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Action, said: "I am delighted that we have secured this funding from the Government’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund. Retrofitting our council housing stock is a core part of our work to tackle the Climate Emergency and help the borough reach net zero by 2030. ”

Traffic, heating and burning of solid fuels make the biggest impact on air quality in London. In 2019, 40 percent of air pollution came also from construction, wood burning and commercial cooking, according to Greater London Authority.

ELL also reported on the Mayor of London's plans to officially expand the ULEZ zone in November, which is now set to come into effect in August. The TFL's decision will affect all Greater London Boroughs, including Lewisham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, and Croydon. ULEZ is being expanded to clear air and improve people's health, according to TfL.

Woolnough said:  “It’s vital that Londoners can breathe good quality air, which is why we’re supportive of the ULEZ expansion and the cleaner air it will deliver to millions of Londoners. People at risk of or living with lung conditions can’t simply move to improve their lung health, we must address the underlying issues that cause poor lung health. The government must ensure people living with a lung condition get an early diagnosis and receive the right support and treatment to manage their lung condition well.

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