The effects of outdoor air pollution on mortality in the UK

Date: 09 May 2011

In our February Newsletter we mentioned a report from the UK Expert Advisory Committee on the Medical Effect of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), published late in 2010, on 'The Mortality Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution in the United Kingdom'. The report breaks new ground in explaining clearly some difficult methodological issues about how to represent the mortality impacts of air pollution and other stressors, and it gives the most-update estimates of how long-term exposure to air pollution - represent as the mass of fine particles (PM2.5) that can penetrate deep into the lung - affects mortality in adults in the UK.

Across the UK, the burden of current human-made air pollution was estimated at 340,000 years of life 'lost' across the population as a whole in a single year, 2008. This burden can be expressed as equivalent to about 29,000 deaths at typical ages, i.e. with average loss of life of about 11.5 years. However it may be more realistic to think of the same burden as up to 200,000 deaths in the UK in 2008 being affected, with an associated loss of life of less than 2 years on average; strictly, the distribution across individuals is unknown. (Change in) life expectancy at birth can also be useful in indicating both mortality burden (a reduction of about 200 days) or the benefits of a 1 μg/m3 reduction UK-wide in annual average PM2.5 (an increase of about 20 days). The full report can be downloaded from here on the COMEAP website.

Fintan Hurley, IOM's Scientific Director, chaired the quantification sub-group of QUARK which did the main work underlying the report. Brian Miller, Principal Epidemiologist at IOM, contributed extensively to the report, which drew strongly on research at IOM over many years, funded by the Department of Health in London, the European Commission, and others.

Fintan gave an invited talk on this work, on behalf of COMEAP, at the recent meeting (4-5 April) of Environmental Protection UK.

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