Air pollution kills more Brits than in Mexico and Brazil: WHO stats

Belinda Liversedge
British Safety Council
18 May 2017
Air pollution from vehicle exhaust pipe on road. Photograph / iStock

More people are dying from air pollution in Britain than in Mexico and Brazil, figures from the World Health Organisation show. 

Mortality rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution (per 100,000 population) in the UK is 25.7.

It puts Britain above Brazil, where the death rate is 15.8 and Mexico - 23.5 per 100,000 population - despite Mexico City reported to be so highly polluting that birds drop dead out the sky. 

The UK also came out worse than its western European neighbours, Spain (14.7) and France (17.2) in the 2017 statistical report.

Outdoor air pollution in both cities and rural areas was estimated to have caused 3 million deaths worldwide in 2012.

“Outdoor air pollution is a major environmental health problem affecting everyone in developed and developing countries alike,” WHO said.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, told the Guardian: “It is deeply tragic that around 3 million lives are cut short worldwide because the air we breathe is dirty and polluted. In the UK, air pollution is a public health crisis hitting our most vulnerable the hardest – our children, people with a lung condition and the elderly.

“Yet, we are in the fortunate position of having the technology and resources to fix this problem. It’s time to use what we have to sort this problem out as a matter of urgency and clean up our filthy, poisonous air. The next government needs to bring in a new Clean Air Act to protect the nation’s lung health.” 

WHO say that countries can reduce the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, by reducing air pollution levels.

Government has released plans to cut levels of diesel fumes and particulates in the atmosphere causing an estimated 40,000 early deaths across the UK every year (Defra).

But they were branded ‘weak’. Caroline Lucas, green party leader said they were “not so much a plan, but a plan to have a plan,” in an article for the Independent.

The High Court has ruled the government is in breach of EU Directives on air pollution. Its 2015 plan was rejected as illegal after lawyers ClientEarth established compliance would not have been achieved until at least 2025. The original deadline to achieve cleaner air was 2010.

Defra is running a consultation on its latest Air Quality Plan here