Newham Has 'Most Toxic Air In The UK', Study Finds

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 53 months ago

Last Updated 03 February 2020

Newham Has 'Most Toxic Air In The UK', Study Finds
Newham's air toxicity way exceeds guidelines from the World Health Organisation. Image: Shutterstock

The London Borough of Newham has the worst levels of air pollution in London — and indeed the whole of the UK — a new study claims.

British Heart Foundation (BHF) ranked the London boroughs based on the average amount of tiny toxic particles (known as PM2.5) found in the air over one year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that any reading of PM2.5 above 10 exceeds its guidelines. Newham has an average annual PM2.5 reading of 13.

Toxic particles, says BHF, are caused by transport, agriculture, domestic settings and industry. In Newham's case, it can't help that the borough is home to London City Airport.

ONS mid-2018 population estimates and Defra PM2.5 estimates by local authority

To label Newham the 'most toxic' borough, however, is not entirely accurate: the levels of PM2.5 that any individual is exposed to is, naturally, contingent on the area of the borough they're in, and often at which time of the day.

Newham's poor rating is closely followed by the City of London and Waltham Forest (with an annual PM2.5 reading of 12.6), and then Barking and Dagenham (12.5).

While east London certainly doesn't come out of the study well, every one of the 32 London boroughs (as well as the City of London) exceeds WHO's PM2.5 guidelines — with even the 'least' toxic borough, Bromley, clocking up an annual reading of 10.4.

Currently, the UK adheres to the EU's guidelines limits for PM2.5, which are slacker than WHO's — 25 per annum. However, the British Heart Foundation  is pushing for the government to be stricter on these rules, in particular through the Environment Bill, which returned to Parliament at the end of January.

Every borough in London exceeds WHO's levels for PM2.5. Image: Shutterstock

Jacob West, Director of Healthcare Innovation at the British Heart Foundation, says: "This government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take brave political action in cleaning up our toxic air.

"You only have to look at past Clean Air Acts or more recently the smoking ban for examples of bold legislation that has improved the air we all breathe."

The British Heart Foundation claims that more than 160,000 deaths could occur over the next decade due to air pollution, if radical steps are not taken. Among such steps, it is suggesting 'charging clean air zones' in all areas in breach of the WHO guidelines; an acceleration of plans to invest in cycling and walking infrastructure; and a national public awareness campaign run by Public Health England.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is pushing hard on his agenda for cleaner air in the city, including an Ultra Low Emission Zone.

The area with the highest annual average level of PM2.5 outside of London is Portsmouth.

Find out more about British Heart Foundation's air pollution campaign on its website.