Assembly highlights high percentage of deaths attributed to air pollution in London boroughs

10 DECEMBER 2012

Up to nine per cent of deaths in the capital’s most polluted areas[1] are attributable to air pollution, a new paper[2] from the London Assembly reveals.

The percentage of deaths attributable to man-made airborne particles was highest in the City of London (9 per cent), Westminster (8.3 per cent), Kensington and Chelsea (8.3 per cent) and Tower Hamlets (8.1 per cent).  Bromley and Havering (both 6.3 per cent) had the lowest proportion in London, though are still above the England average of 5.6 percent. 


The Assembly’s Health and Environment Committee's paper highlights the long-term health impact of toxic pollutants, which have been linked to life-shortening lung and heart conditions, breast cancer and diabetes.  It is estimated there are over 4,000 extra deaths[3] each year in London from particulates and health costs[4] are estimated at up to £20 billion a year – twice the cost of obesity. 

Murad Qureshi AM, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee, said:

“Air pollution is a problem in large cities worldwide, but London’s is among the worst of any European capital. These latest figures clearly show the impact these harmful pollutants are having: thousands of Londoners are dying early each year.

“The borough level figures should make for interesting reading for the Mayor and some boroughs whilst putting their public health strategies together. Hopefully they will give the problem of air pollution the emphasis it warrants.”

The paper sets out a number of pressing issues, including:

  • Concentrations of both PM and NO2 remain too high in London and further action is needed to protect public health and prevent potential large fines[5] from exceeding EU limits.
  • The most polluting vehicles on London’s roads are diesel. Options for reducing emissions should be considered, such as imposing stricter standards for diesel vehicles within the Low Emission Zone.  
  • Retrofitting older buses with new technology could cut NOx emissions by more than 70 per cent.  Some Committee Members believe TfL should do more to find innovative and bold solutions to emissions from its fleet.
  • Greater promotion of cleaner technologies, such as electric vehicles, walking and cycling, could also be considered.

The Committee is inviting views from experts and interested organisations about air quality topics for possible future in-depth work.

Notes to editors:

  1. The percentages give the fraction of all-cause adult mortality attributable to long-term exposure to current levels of anthropogenic (human-made) particulate air pollution - (measured as fine particulate matter, PM2.5).  The figures are estimated for Defra based on modelled air pollution. 2010 figures. See the list of figures for all London boroughs from the Public Health Observatory.
  2. Read our issues paper, Air Pollution in London
  3. Report on estimation of mortality impacts of particulate air pollution in London, Dr Brian G Miller, Institute of Occupational Medicine, June 2010.
  4. The Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Vol 1. Defra
  5. The Air Quality Directive limits the concentrations of various pollutants.  If air quality breaches these limits once deadlines have passed, there is a multi-stage enforcement process which can result in fines.  For persistent breaches, these fines could be hundreds of millions of pounds, with no upper limit.  These fines can now potentially be passed by the UK government to other responsible authorities, including the GLA, under the Localism Act 2011.  London’s PM10 levels have remained close to the limit since 2010 and limits could be breached in the future.  PM2.5 limits will come into force in 2015.  London is expected to miss the 2015 deadline for NO2 limits, meaning a fine is likely. 
  6. Murad Qureshi AM, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee, is available for interview.  See contact details below.
  7. As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor.

For more details, please contact Lisa Moore in the Assembly Media Office on 020 7983 4228/4283.  For out of hours media enquiries please call 020 7983 4000 and ask for the Assembly duty press officer.  Non-media enquiries should be directed to the Public Liaison Unit, Greater London Authority, on 020 7983 4100.