Dangerously high air pollution in three-quarters of Dacorum neighbourhoods, new analysis shows

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Breathing polluted air has been linked to premature death

Three-quarters of neighbourhoods in Dacorum are exposed to dangerously high air pollution, a new analysis has found.

Analysis from environmental organisation Friends of the Earth shows over 36 million people in England and Wales, including 8 million children, were breathing air with hazardous levels of nitrogen dioxide in 2022.

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It comes as the Government announced it was pushing back the deadline for several environmental policies such as the ban on sales of new diesel and petrol cars, which are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

The analysis revealed 70 neighbourhoods in Dacorum were exposed to air pollution in Dacorum. Image: John Giles PAThe analysis revealed 70 neighbourhoods in Dacorum were exposed to air pollution in Dacorum. Image: John Giles PA
The analysis revealed 70 neighbourhoods in Dacorum were exposed to air pollution in Dacorum. Image: John Giles PA

Nitrogen dioxide can affect the respiratory system and is associated with higher mortality rates. It is especially dangerous for children as it increases their risk of respiratory infection and may lead to poorer lung function in later life.

The data uses information from the census to divide the country into over 33,000 neighbourhood areas, each with between 1,000 and 3,000 people living there.

The analysis revealed 70 neighbourhoods in Dacorum (75 per cent) were exposed to air pollution exceeding the World Health Organisation recommended safety limit.

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This meant approximately 118,000 people were breathing polluted air in the area in 2022, which has been linked to up to 36,000 premature deaths every year in the UK.

Across England and Wales, three in five neighbourhoods were found to have polluted air.

Areas where the recommended limit was exceeded twice accounted for nine per cent of all neighbourhoods, with 5.9 million people breathing dangerously polluted air.

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said: “It’s a national scandal that millions of people across the country live in areas where air pollution is double the safety level, with children, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions most at risk.”

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There were 61 schools in the areas of Dacorum where the dirty air was recorded, affecting 28,000 children.

Mr Childs added: “Rishi Sunak’s back-pedalling on measures aimed at tackling poor air quality – such as funding better cycling provision and financial support and incentives to switch to cleaner cars – will simply prolong people’s misery.

“Most of the areas with really bad air pollution are in Labour constituencies, so if Keir Starmer wins the next election, he will be under intense pressure to give this issue the priority it deserves.”

Further figures by the Royal College of Physicians show the issue costs the UK economy £20 billion annually through NHS costs and workdays lost due to illness.

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A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “This data makes comparisons to WHO guidelines which are intended to inform the setting of air quality standards and are not ready-made targets for adoption. Natural and transboundary sources alone mean that even if all humans left the South East it would still have levels higher than the WHO guideline.

“We absolutely recognise the importance of protecting people from air pollution – which is why we have set stretching new targets for fine particulate matter, and are taking comprehensive action set out in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 to improve air quality for all.”