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Leading charity calls for commitment to stricter air pollution limits

British Heart Foundation (BHF) has today warned that heart and circulatory disease deaths attributed to particulate matter air pollution could exceed 9,000 over the next decade in Wales, unless the new Westminster Government takes bold action.  

The BHF says air pollution presents a ‘major public health emergency’ which must be urgently addressed by the new UK Government.  It is calling for World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on particulate matter (PM) to be adopted in to UK law, and met by 2030.

In Wales, the Welsh Government has published its plans for a Clean Air Plan, but BHF Cymru is calling for a Clean Air Act to be delivered before the next Welsh Government election in 2021.

The call comes as the charity has launched a hard-hitting campaign, ‘You’re full of it’, to highlight that we’re all unwittingly inhaling dangerous levels of particulate matter air pollution in towns and cities across the UK every day.

It’s estimated that 670 heart and circulatory disease deaths each year are attributable to particulate air pollution in Wales.

BHF-funded research has shown that high levels of air pollution can have a harmful effect on health, such as by making existing heart conditions worse and increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke [3].  Research funded by the charity found that fine particulate matter can build up in the fatty plaques of diseased arteries.

Adam Fletcher Head of BHF Cymru said: 

“Every day, thousands of us across Wales are inhaling toxic particles which enter our blood and get stuck in our organs, raising our risk of heart attacks and stroke. Our toxic air is a public health emergency, and not enough is being done to tackle this threat to our society.

“We need to ensure that stricter, health-based air quality guidelines are adopted into law to protect the health of the nation as a matter of urgency. Clean Air legislation in the 1950s and 60s, and more recently the smoking ban in public places, show that government actions can improve the air we breathe.

“Decision makers across the country owe it to future generations to help stop this alarming figure from becoming a reality. That’s why we are urging people to contact their MPs todemand a change in the law.”

Currently, the UK subscribes to EU limits for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which is the pollutant with the most established links to health harms.

However, the limits set by the WHO are more stringent than the EU’s. The charity is urging the new Government to adopt WHO guidelines into the reintroduced UK Government Environment Bill, with a requirement that these limits are met by 2030.

BHF Cymru is urging people to write to their MPs, asking them to support the inclusion of WHO air pollution guideline limits in the bill.

In July 2019, the UK Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published findings showing that meeting WHO guidelines on air pollution is “technically feasible” in most areas of the UK by 2030.

BHF research has shown that (PM2.5) can have a seriously detrimental effect to heart health, making existing conditions worse, and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Dr Mark Miller, a British Heart Foundation-funded researcher specialising in air pollution, said: 

“Air pollution is a serious public health issue which affects us all, and evidence of the negative impact toxic air has on our health is increasing all the time. Our research has found that air pollution damages our blood vessels, increasing our risk of blood clots, and in turn heart attacks and stroke.

“While there is no safe level of air pollution exposure, adopting stricter guidelines will do a great deal to protect our health, allowing people to live healthier lives for longer.”