Breathing Sheffield air is like smoking 85 cigarettes a year, new study finds
Breathing air in Sheffield is the equivalent to smoking more than 80 cigarettes a year, a new study has found.
The British Heart Foundation said pollution in cities and towns across the UK is a public health emergency and has urged the government to bring in stricter rules to cut it down.
According to its results, air quality in Sheffield equates to smoking 85 cigarettes a year.
It found air quality is four times as bad in the worst area – Newham in East London – as it is in the cleanest – the Outer Hebrides in Scotland.
Almost all of the 25 areas with the most polluted air in the UK were in London, with the exception only of Slough and Dartford.
Particles of pollution can seep into the body and cause life-threatening damage, raising the risk of stroke and heart attack, and contributing to lung diseases and cancers.
“Air pollution is a major public health emergency and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves,” said the charity's Jacob West.
“Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame.”
In Newham, the air quality is equivalent to smoking 159 cigarettes a year.
At the other end of the scale, with the cleanest air, was made up of rural areas of northern Scotland, including the Outer Hebrides (40 cigarettes), the Shetland Islands (43), the Highlands (45), Orkney (46) and Argyll and Bute (48).
The BHF made the calculations by measuring average exposure to PM2.5 particles, which are the smallest measurable types of air pollution.
Experts worked out the number of years of life which could be expected to be lost to breathing in the amount of pollution in a specific area, then compared this to how much life one would be expected to lose to smoking.
PM2.5 particulate matter comes from dust, exhaust fumes and smoke from power plants, fires or industrial works.
When breathed in it can be directly toxic to the tissue it comes into contact with and can raise the risk of heart disease killing someone at a younger age.
It may also worsen heart and lung conditions in existing patients, or contribute to children or the elderly developing illnesses such as asthma.
The British Heart Foundation has called on the next government to bring in stricter anti-pollution laws aimed at keeping PM2.5 levels below 10 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) – the target used by the World Health Organization.