UK Study Finds Improving Air Quality Can Save Thousands of Lives

city air quality

A new study of improved air quality standards in the UK between 1970 and 2010 has found that reduced air pollution during that period was associated with lower mortality rates from pollution-related causes. The study, conducted by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, is among the first to examine mortality related to pollution over such a long period of time while also controlling for weather conditions that may contribute to higher pollution levels.


In the 40-year period of time examined by the study, the United Kingdom enacted a variety of emission control measures designed to improve air quality. As a result, levels of fine particulate matter, VOCs and nitrogen dioxide all fell by more than 50 percent, demonstrating that the air quality regulations put in place in Britain over the last half century were extremely effective in reducing overall air pollution.


Even more interesting, though, were the findings of the study related to mortality among the British population. Between 1970 and 2010, the study estimated that the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with high pollution levels decreased by 44 percent. For respiratory diseases, the number was even higher at 56 percent. This data provides considerable evidence that the reductions in air pollution seen by the UK since 1970 have likely been responsible for saving thousands of lives.


While the new study shows that the UK has already taken significant steps in the right direction with regards to air pollution, the authors say that the work is far from finished. Even with the regulations currently in place, levels of nitrogen dioxide in some British cities are considered excessively high. The more that can be done to combat air pollution, though, the more pronounced the effects on mortality from pollution-related causes will become.


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