Traffic pollution kills 5,000 a year in UK, and aviation & shipping pollution kills another 1,800, says MIT study

A study by MIT in Massachusetts has found that combustion exhausts across the UK cause nearly 5,000 premature deaths each year. They also estimate that exhaust gases from aeroplanes cause a further 1,800 deaths annually, compared to 1,850 deaths due to road accidents.  In total, about 19,000 deaths per year in the UK are caused by air pollution of all sorts –  of which 7,000 are due to pollutants blown in from the continent. The findings challenge the traditional view that industrial plants are the main source of pollution, because traffic pollution occurs much nearer to people’s homes than industrial emissions. One of the authors, Steven Barrett hopes soon to conclude a detailed assessment of the health impacts of either a 3rd runway at Heathrow or a Thames Estuary Airport.


Traffic pollution kills 5,000 a year in UK, says study

By Roland Pease BBC Radio Science Unit

Traffic pollution occurs much nearer to people’s homes than industrial emissions, the authors say

Road pollution is more than twice as deadly as traffic accidents, according to a study of UK air quality.

The analysis appears in Environmental Science and Technology, carried out by Steve Yim and Steven Barrett, pollution experts from MIT in Massachusetts.

They estimate that combustion exhausts across the UK cause nearly 5,000 premature deaths each year.

The pair also estimate that exhaust gases from aeroplanes cause a further 2,000 deaths annually.  (Should say 1,800 from aviation and shipping. See below).

By comparison, 2010 saw, 1,850 deaths due to road accidents recorded.

Overall, the study’s findings are in line with an earlier report by the government’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), which found that air pollution in 2008 was responsible for about 29,000 deaths in the UK.

The new study arrives at a slightly lower annual figure of 19,000, a difference the lead author of the COMEAP study, Fintan Hurley, attributes to differing methodology.

Breaking down pollution

The latest study adds to the debate by breaking down mortality rates according to sector – transport, energy and industry.

The researchers combine models of atmospheric circulation and chemistry with source data and clinical studies to arrive at their independent figures for the health effects of pollution.

The findings challenge the traditional view that industrial plants are the main source of pollution

Although the popular perception of air pollution involves images of smoke stacks billowing out toxic black fumes into the atmosphere, industry and the power sector turn out to kill fewer than vehicle emissions, the data shows.

“Cars and lorries emit right by where people live and work and so have a greater impact,” explains lead author Steven Barrett.

The findings also pinpoint where the deaths happen: 2,200 every year in Greater London, another 630 in both Greater Manchester and West Midlands.

Because the model includes Europe-wide weather patterns, it also reveals how far the deadly effects of air pollution can reach.

Of the 19,000 annual UK deaths estimated, 7,000 are due to pollutants blown in from the continent. In London, European pollutants add 960 deaths each year to the 2,200 caused by UK combustion fumes.

UK metropolitan area Estimated deaths linked to UK combustion emissions Estimated deaths linked to UK + EU combustion emission
Source: Dr Steven Barrett
Greater London2,2003,160
Greater Manchester630810
West Midlands630820
West Yorkshire520700
South Yorkshire350480
Yorkshire and Humber280390

But the international trade in deaths goes both ways. More than 3,000 European deaths can be attributed to UK emissions the authors say.

“We are all in this together,” agrees Fintan Hurley of COMEAP.

“If one city were to clean up its traffic, it would still be dealing with pollution from traffic elsewhere.”

The propensity for air pollution to straddle boundaries has political, as well as medical, implications.

The UK is currently facing the threat of prosecution by the European Union for serial violations of air-quality standards.

But the new study suggests that 40% of the key pollutant, PM2.5 (particles up to 2.5 micrometres in diameter) comes from abroad.

“The EU-attributable particulates in London are likely to have significantly contributed to the violations, because they raised the background concentration on which local short-term peaks were superimposed,” explains Steven Barrett.

Not that these legal niceties are of any help to those most at danger from polluted air. The analysis identifies key improvements that would help reduce the health burden of air pollution.

Practical measures include the reduction of black carbon emitted in car exhausts – especially from older cars that fail to burn their fuel completely.

Reductions in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions would also help, though perhaps at a cost of making vehicles less efficient.

Far more effective, experts say, would be to invest in public transport, taking cars off the road altogether.

Such improvements would come at a cost, but so does continuing with business as usual.

“We estimate the premature deaths are costing the UK at least £6 billion a year,” says Steven Barrett, “and perhaps as much as £60 billion.”

For comparison, Crossrail is projected to cost £14.8 billion to build and expected to remove 15,000 car journeys during the morning peak.

Meanwhile, Steven Barrett is moving his attention to another form of public transport, and hopes soon to conclude a detailed assessment of the health impacts of either a third runway at Heathrow and of the alternative Thames Estuary Airport proposal.




The report apparently states 1,800 deaths from shipping and aviation.

Public Health Impacts of Combustion Emissions in the United Kingdom
Steve H. L. Yim and Steven R. H. Barrett
Environ. Sci. Technol., 2012, 46 (8), pp 4291–4296
Publication Date (Web): March 21, 2012 (Policy Analysis)
DOI: 10.1021/es2040416

New study links air pollution and early death in the UK
In a study appearing this month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, MIT researchers report that emissions from cars, trucks, planes and powerplants cause 13,000 premature deaths in the United Kingdom each year.

The researchers analyzed data from 2005, the most recent year for which information is available. They found that among the various sources of emissions in the country, car and truck exhaust was the single greatest contributor to premature death, affecting some 3,300 people per year. By comparison, the researchers note, fewer than 3,000 Britons died in road accidents in 2005.

The researchers found that emissions originating elsewhere in Europe cause an additional 6,000 early deaths in the U.K. annually; U.K. emissions that migrate outside the country, in turn, cause 3,100 premature deaths per year in other European Union nations. In some areas on the periphery of the U.K. — such as northern Scotland — almost all air pollution comes from the rest of Europe, the researchers say.

MIT’s Steven Barrett and his co-author Steve Yim began the study in light of recent events in the U.K.: London is currently in violation of air quality standards set by the E.U., and the British government may face significant E.U. fines if it fails to address its air pollution.
“We wanted to know if the responsibility to maintain air quality was matched by an ability to act or do something about it,” says Barrett, the Charles Stark Draper Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. “The results of the study indicate there is an asymmetry there.”

Dust in the wind

Barrett worked with MIT postdoc Steve Yim to analyze emissions data provided by the British government. The team divided the country’s emissions into sectors, including road transport; power generation; commercial, residential and agricultural sources; and other transport, such as shipping and aviation.

The group then simulated temperature and wind fields throughout the country using a weather research and forecasting model similar to those used to predict short-term weather. Barrett and Yim entered emissions data into the model to see how weather might disperse the emissions. They then ran another simulation — a chemistry transport model — to see how emissions from different sectors interacted.

Finally, the group overlaid their simulation results on population density maps to see which locations had the greatest long-term exposure to combustion emissions. Barrett observed that most of the emissions studied were composed of particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, a size that epidemiologists have associated with premature death.

Hazy outlook

After road transport, the researchers found that emissions from shipping and aviation were the second greatest contributor to premature deaths, causing 1,800 early deaths annually, followed by powerplant emissions, which cause an estimated 1,700 premature deaths each year.

Barrett and Yim found that powerplant emissions have larger health impacts in northern England, where emissions from five major plants tend to congregate.  In London, the researchers found that shipping and aviation emissions had a greater impact on health, possibly due to the proximity of major airports to the city.

Emissions from the country’s powerplants, which are mostly northeast of major cities and emit pollution well above ground level, are less damaging to the general population than other sources of pollution, Barrett says. In contrast, he says emissions from cars and trucks, which occur closer to where people live and work, pose a more serious risk to human health.

“People have a number of risk factors in their life,” Barrett says. “Air pollution is another risk factor. And it can be significant, especially for people who live in cities.”

Provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology





see also


14 March 2012  (BBC)

Increasing road use ‘impacts on Heathrow air quality’

Vehicles going to Heathrow airport
The reports suggests encouraging airline operators to remove the most polluting aircraft

The increasing number of vehicles using the road to get to Heathrow airport is worsening air pollution in the area, a London Assembly report has said.

The Plane Speaking report said 66% of 69 million passengers getting to the west London airport used cars or taxis.

It said with bigger planes and the redevelopment of Heathrow, the number of passengers could rise to 95 million.

The report suggests extending the London Underground’s operating hours to Heathrow to cut pollution.

It also recommends introducing incentives to encourage people to use buses and coaches; encouraging airline operators to remove the most polluting aircraft from their fleets; and considering more robust measures to reduce the level of drop-off and pick-up traffic.

Murad Qureshi, chair of the London Assembly’s environment committee, said: “Poor air quality causes the early deaths of at least 4,000 Londoners a year, and it’s time more action is focused on Heathrow as a big player in this serious public health issue.”



13 December 2011 (BBC)

Ministers admit pollution breach

Smog in London in April
Judge Mr Justice Mitting called Tuesday’s action a draw

The government has admitted breaching European Union pollution legislation, during a High Court battle with environmental campaign group.

Lawyers for Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman made the admission following action by ClientEarth.

But Judge Mr Justice Mitting said any enforcement action was a matter for the European Commission.

He refused to make any declaration, or to order Mrs Spelman to outline plans for cutting pollution levels.

ClientEarth had complained that Mrs Spelman had failed to consult on proposals which demonstrated how the UK aimed to comply with EU limits on levels of nitrogen dioxide.

It asked the judge to declare that plans set out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) did not comply with EU law, and order Mrs Spelman to publish revised proposals.

Government lawyers challenged the claim and said no High Court order was needed.

‘Reasonable case’

Mr Justice Mitting said a lawyer had conceded that “the government is in breach of obligations” but said he would not make any “mandatory order”.

He said the government could admit the breach and “leave it to the (European) Commission to take whatever action is right in enforcement”.

“Such a mandatory order… would raise serious political and economic questions which are simply not for a judge,” he added.

“Courts have traditionally been wary of entering this area of political debate – for good reason.”

Mr Justice Mitting pronounced the action a “draw” and said costs should be shared.

A spokesperson for Defra said it was happy that “the judge has ruled on our favour”.

“A significant part of the UK meets EU air quality limits for all pollutants and air quality has improved considerably in recent decades.

“Our air quality plans set out all the important work being done at national, regional and local level to meet all EU limits in the shortest possible time,” the spokesperson said.

Stephen Hockman QC, for ClientEarth, told the court the charity had achieved something and said: “The government is in breach of its obligations under European law in relation to air quality.

“Although we have lost, it was a reasonable case to advance.”

A spokesman said the legal challenge had been brought because air quality plans for 17 regions and cities would not comply with legal limits for air quality until after 2015, when the deadline for achieving the limits was 1 January 2010.

He said he had wanted the court to order Mrs Spelman to draw up plans that would achieve legal compliance throughout the UK by 2015, and also to make a declaration that she was in breach of her legal obligations.

ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton said: “The government’s plans to tackle air pollution are frankly pathetic. They contain almost no new measures and show that they won’t achieve air quality limits until 2025. It’s nothing short of a disgrace.”



Below are some comments from AirportWatch members, on air pollution from airports:

Some of the air pollution around airports comes from unburnt fuel while engines are running while aircraft are on the ground. This ground running is the main culprit, with tank venting being only a minor part of the problem.

ATK (aviation turbine kerosene) fumes permeate all airports much of the time and they can’t be refuelling for these durations.  With prevailing wind conditions, kerosene fumes are plainly detectable 2.5 miles away from the eastern end ofEast Midlandsairport’s runway in a small village.   It is unclear what epidemiological evidence there is, regarding respiratory and heart conditions in settlements close to airports.  The suspicion is that prescribed medicines for respiratory complaints in areas close to airports are above the norm.  However, correlation does not always imply causation and many airports are also close to busy roads.

Some kerosene vapour is vented during refuelling, and one airport campaign group has visited their airport’s refuelling operation early on a winter’s morning with the local Environmental Health Officer and the airport operator.  Whilst bulk delivery was via pipelines, during each aircraft refuelling operation, vapour is displaced from the wing fuel tanks to atmosphere.

By way of comparison, in a road vehicle station, petrol vapour is recovered both during bulk delivery and during dispensing to individual vehicles.   It was estimated that 40 aircraft fuelling up in the early morning each took on an average of 6,000 litres of fuel.  So the equivalent amount of fuel vapour expelled would be about 250,000 litres.  Using a 150:1 vapour/liquid ratio (taken from the 1967 Petroleum Officer’s Handbook of 1967), that would equate to 1,667 litres of liquid fuel.  Not a trivial amount.

However, it was difficult to conclude that this amount of vapour didn’t disperse quickly to the atmosphere within the confines of the airport.  Albeit on cold mornings with a temperature inversion some of this vapour could float downwind to neighbouring communities and this seemed to match reported instances of complaints of fuel smells very close to the airport.  The question was asked why airlines did not consider recovering this expelled fuel from an economic standpoint – it is understood that this is done in some parts of theUSA.

The issue of micro-particulate air pollution, as well as some aspects of nanotechnology development, are an epidemiological time-bomb.  Although much is known about the effects that respirable ultra-fine particles have on human beings there is little being done on the legislative front.

While PM10 measurements can be a proxy for determining the likely levels of smaller airborne particles much more research needs to be taken into account. That is, the effect of sub-micron particles approaching nanometric (billionth of a metre) dimensions. Research into the effects of PM 0.1 is finding that there are significant health effects.

Airborne particles currently controlled by legislation are breathable. That is, they are trapped mainly by the upper respiratory tract and can thus be coughed or sneezed out of the body. While these larger particles are not blameless from adverse health effects it is the smaller particles that cause real harm in that unlike the larger ones, which remain as extracellular pollutants, these actually enter the body’s cells and as such are respirable. Being intracellular inclusions much damage can be caused by these sub-micron particles, particularly if they carry a dioxin or heavy metal load.

Ultrafine particulate matter in the air we breathe reduces T-lymphocyte levels. T- lymphocytes, or ‘T-cells’, are vital defences against infections, both fungal and bacterial, as well as playing a role in killing cancer cells and augmenting the defence mechanism of ‘B- cells’. This is well-documented and the effects of microparticulates of mean diameter 2.5 microns and less are on this aspect of the immune system are by no means a well-kept secret. It may well be that a fifth or subsequent daughter-directive of the 1996 European Union Air Quality Framework Directive (96/62/EC) will legislate for the control of ultrafine emissions.





London: Too Dirty for Business?

Date:  January .2012

Author:   HACAN

Length: 10 pages

Summary:   ‘London has got to clean up its act if its wants remain the top business city’. Though the excellent transport links to the rest of the world make it Europe’s premier business city, London fares less well on other issues which influence businesses in deciding where to locate. The annual survey by Cushman & Wakefield in 2011 “London is still ranked – by some distance from its closest competitors – as the leading city in which to do business.”  However London performed badly in all the surveys on the quality of life it offered, scoring particularly poorly on air pollution and traffic congestion.  HACAN says the message is clear. London has got to clean up its act if its wants remain the top city for business.

Link:  London “Too Dirty for Business”