The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released its latest report into air pollution around the world — and the findings are very revealing. 

In Britain, people in 31 towns and cites are breathing air that fails to meet the WHO’s safety standards, it showed. And a further 15 places are right on the limit. 

The WHO has set a safety limit on fine particle air pollution of 10 micrograms per cubic metre. 

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But in the Welsh town of Port Talbot, which has the highest air pollution level in the UK, the number of micrograms per cubic metre is 18. 

Scunthorpe and Salford are both at 15; while in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar — just off the south coast of Spain — the count is 14. 

Fine air particle pollution is nasty stuff — it can cause diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory infections, according to the BBC

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There is some good news, however. 

For the first time, this report also includes historic data — which means that we can see how air pollution levels are changing in different areas. 

And in many places in the UK, pollution levels are falling. Between 2013 and 2015 in London, levels fell from 17 to 11, reported the BBC. In Sheffield over the same time period, it fell from 17 to 12. 

Although still over the limit, it’s a good start. 

The most polluted towns and cities in the UK (including Gibraltar) are:
  • Port Talbot — 18
  • Scunthorpe — 15
  • Salford — 15
  • Gibraltar — 14
  • Manchester — 13
  • Swansea — 13
  • Gillingham — 13
  • Carlisle — 12
  • Chepstow — 12
  • Leeds — 12
  • Leicester — 12
  • Liverpool — 12
  • Grays — 12
  • Eccles — 12
  • Nottingham — 12
  • Plymouth — 12
  • York — 12
  • Prestonpans — 12
  • Royal Leamington Spa — 12
  • Sandy — 12
  • Sheffield — 12
  •  Stoke-On-Trent — 12
  • London — 11
  • Coventry — 11
  • Hull — 11
  • Londonderry — 11
  • Middlesborough — 11
  • Norwich — 11
  • Southend-On-Sea — 11
  • Stockton-On-Tees — 11
  • Storrington — 11
  • Wigan — 11 
These are the areas at the limit of 10: 
  • Armagh
  • Birmingham
  • Brighton
  • Bristol
  • Cardiff
  • Eastbourne
  • Harlington
  • Newcastle 
  • Newport
  • Oxford
  • Portsmouth
  • Preston
  • Saltash
  • Southampton
  • Stanford-Le-Hope

“While air quality in the UK has improved significantly since 2010, this report from the WHO clearly shows the impact air pollution is having on the health of men, women, and child in the UK and across the world,” said a spokesperson from the government’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). 

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“Tackling this important issue is a priority for this government which is why we have a £3.5 billion plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions and will set out further actions through a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy later this year,” they added. 

In Britain, air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year, according to the Royal College of Physicians. Its 2016 report also claimed air pollution is responsible for over 6 million sick days a year, and an estimated total social cost of £22.6 billion annually. 

Another important revelation made by the WHO’s report is that air quality is far more of a problem for the world’s poorest people. 

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Around the world, nine out of 10 people are breathing air containing high levels of pollutants. An estimated 7 million people die every year from exposure to pollution — and these people are predominantly in low and middle-income countries in Asia and Africa.

In the Americas, more than 57% of cities saw an improvement in their air quality, and more than 61% of cities in Europe, according to the Guardian. Meanwhile, in south and south-east Asia air quality worsened in more than 70% of poor cities.

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Defend the Planet

The Most Polluted Towns And Cities In The UK

By Imogen Calderwood