A pollution map unveiled by campaigners shows unsafe air quality in almost 2,000 places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) developed the interactive map using government figures and cited traffic emissions and a lack of government action for the pollution rates breaching EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide.
Some of the worst air quality was found in Kensington, Leeds and Doncaster. For seven years, London’s air has been in breach of legal limits which should have been met in 2010.
Air pollution has been linked to serious health problems like heart disease and dementia, and is thought to increase the risk of miscarriage. Tens of thousands of people are impacted by poor air quality and related illnesses.
The organisation also noted that forty towns and cities across the country are breaking World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline limits for fine particle pollution – adding that pollution under legal limits does not necessarily mean the air is safe.
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FoE clean air campaigner Simon Bowens called the air quality crisis “unforgivable” and leaves “millions of us breathing dangerously polluted air”.
He added: “The government needs to step up and do more to help deal with this. They can’t just carry on leaving the difficult decisions with local authorities, many of which are severely under-resourced.
“Unacceptably toxic air can be found across much of the UK, even in smaller towns. It is harming the health of people across the country and is especially bad for young children whose lungs are still developing.”
In response to court orders to accelerate plans to reduce the UK’s nitrogen dioxide pollution, the government proposed a series of clean air zones. The first will be enforced in April in central London.
FoE said that a child in London cannot hope to breathe healthy air until 2025, unless innovative plans are brought in.