Wigan's air pollution health hazard - shock report

Air pollution is responsible for four adult deaths in Wigan out of every 100, shocking new figures reveal.

Monday, 18th March 2019, 10:29 am
Updated Monday, 18th March 2019, 11:33 am
King Street West is in danger of going over the pollution limit next year

The latest data from Public Health England (PHE) showed the levels of fatalities in the borough among those aged 30 or over from long-term exposure to harmful substances in the air in 2017.

The proportion of deaths in Wigan from air pollution has decreased slightly since 2010, when it was 5.2 out of every 100 connected to high presences of dangerous particles.

Environmentalists in the borough said the fall was good news but the fatality rate was still too high and Wigan Council needed to do far more to reduce car use if there are to be further improvements.

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King Street West is in danger of going over the pollution limit next year

Indeed, they said, the town hall has recently introduced a number of car-friendly measures that while being popular risk doing more long-term harm.

PHE, for its part, is now proposing a ban on cars idling in areas such as schools or hospitals.

And town halls are calling for more funding to tackle pollution and improve public transport.

Will Patterson, Wigan and Leigh Green Party spokesperson, said: “The fall in the pollution-related death rate, and the fact that the rate in Wigan is now lower than the national average, is great news; it’s proof that pollution isn’t a price that we have to pay for economic development.

“We’d sound a note of caution, however: Wigan Council’s car-obsessed policies risk throwing the progress away.

“We know their free parking policy is well-intentioned, but more cars in town means more emissions and more pollution, and that hurts all of us.

“We also think the council’s push for more roads is wrong-headed: for decades, study after study has shown that more roads bring more cars and more emissions.

“We think the council could support our towns and keep cutting pollution with more support for car-pooling, electric vehicles, public transport and even more backing for walking and cycling.

“We’re moving in the right direction and we’re showing that a greener society can still be a more prosperous one.

“But four deaths out of a hundred is still four deaths too many, and it’s now up to our local representatives to take up policies that bring that rate down further.”

The data measures PM2.5, small particles which are about thee per cent of the width of a human hair.

Long-term exposure to them can trigger chronic diseases such as asthma, heart disease or bronchitis as well as causing other respiratory problems.

Road traffic and industrial activities are major sources of PM2.5 emissions.

Prof Kate Ardern, director of public health at Wigan Council said: “The proportion of air pollution related deaths over the age of 30 in Wigan Borough has fallen by 21 per cent since 2010. This is three times faster than England as a whole and Wigan Borough is still significantly below the national average.

“However, we cannot be complacent. We do know that poor air quality in Greater Manchester is a major issue that is affecting people’s health right now.

“Following our recent Deal 2030 big listening event, many of our residents and young people said they want to see a greener borough with less pollution.

“We have to tackle this collectively, so we are supporting the development of the Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan and will continue to encourage residents and motorists to help us improve pollution locally.

“From a public health perspective, we are committed to supporting residents make healthier life choices, such as promoting sustainable modes of transport including cycling and walking.

“For those who do need to drive, we encourage them to switch their engines off instead of idling. By working together, these things will help to improve air quality, which will in turn, improve quality of life.”

Martin Tett, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said air pollution is a public health emergency.

He said: “We need to be able to live in safe communities, which includes making sure the air we breathe is as free from pollution as possible.

“If the Government’s air quality plans and any new local powers are to be successful, they need to be underpinned by local flexibility and sufficient funding, which needs to be addressed in the Spending Review.

“Councils also need local powers, particularly with regard to traffic offences, government support on planning and transport matters, and robust national action to help the country transition to low-emission vehicles and power generation.”

PHE recently estimated, 28,000 to 36,000 deaths a year in the UK could be attributed to long-term exposure to PM2.5 particles.

Across England, air pollution accounts for 5.1 in every 100 deaths, slightly lower than seven years earlier, when it was 5.6 per 100 deaths.

Prof Paul Cosford, medical director and director of health protection at PHE, said: “We should stop idling outside schools and we should make sure that children can walk or cycle to school.”

“Transport and urban planners will need to work together with others involved in air pollution to ensure that new initiatives have a positive impact.”