traffic pollution


According to an international evidence review, prolonged exposure to traffic pollution leads to increased death rates in communities, towns, and cities.

The review incorporated data from various sources, including a study involving over 100,000 female teachers and school administrators in California, a 40-year analysis of nearly 400,000 individuals in the UK census, over 800,000 general practitioner records from England, and extensive studies on the populations of Rome and Barcelona, as well as elderly individuals in Denmark and Japan.

Drawing on this comprehensive evidence, the review, led by the US Health Effects Institute (HEI), confidently concluded that there are strong associations between air pollution from traffic and roadways and heightened death rates. A previous HEI review in 2022 arrived at similar conclusions regarding the links between traffic pollution and lung cancer, as well as new asthma cases in both children and adults.

The latest review examined nearly 200 research studies investigating the correlation between air pollution and death rates, encompassing various health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, respiratory problems, and lung cancer. Its specific focus was on the connection between air pollution from traffic and its impact on mortality, supplementing the assessment made by the World Health Organization the previous year.

Estimates of premature deaths caused by polluted air are frequently reported. In the UK, this translates to approximately 29,000 to 43,000 deaths for adults aged 30 and above in 2019. In London alone, the annual figure ranges from 3,600 to 4,100 deaths attributable to air pollution. The findings of this new review will enhance the body of evidence used in these assessments, enabling more accurate estimates of the effects of policies like low emission zones.

Looking ahead, even with the transition to electric vehicles, traffic will continue to generate particle pollution resulting from tire and road wear, as well as, to a lesser extent, brake usage. However, the review panel found that few studies have examined the specific effects of these sources of pollution.

Dr Hanna Boogaard, who led the review, said: “Air quality regulations and improvements in vehicular emission-control technologies have contributed to decreases, however, those improvements do not fully offset the growth and increased congestion of the world’s motor vehicles.

“To date, almost all traffic pollution regulations are targeting tailpipe emissions. Vehicles also pollute by resuspending road dust, abrading road surfaces, and wearing brakes and tyres, which leads to emissions of metals such as iron and copper.”

Prof Barbara Hoffmann of the University of Düsseldorf, one of the authors of the review, said: “The evidence is very clear: road traffic does not only kill via accidents but also via the air pollution vehicles emit.”

In a related development, a report from Imperial College London released underscores the detrimental impact of air pollution on people’s health, beginning from before birth and extending into old age. The evidence presented in the report indicates that current levels of air pollution affect everyone in London, including residents of the least polluted suburbs, and pose an even greater risk to individuals with pre-existing vulnerabilities.



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