26th November, 2010
A report for the Greater London Authority on health impacts of air pollution was produced in June 2010. The report, written by Dr Brian G Milner, is titled ‘Report into estimation of mortality impacts of particulate air pollution in London’.
The study estimated that over 4,000 deaths are caused every year by air pollution:
“It is estimated that fine particles have an impact on mortality equivalent to 4,267 deaths in London in 2008, within a range of 756 to 7,965. A permanent reduction in PM2.5 concentrations of 1μg/m3 would gain 400,000 years of life for the current population (2008) in London and a further 200,000 years for those born during that period, followed for the lifetime of the current population. For the current population, this is equivalent to an average 3 weeks per member of the 2008 population, with the expected gains differing by age.”
See report for for more detail (38 pages; 284Kbytes).
Heathrow and its aircraft are not the biggest contributors to air pollution in London – road traffic is a greater source. But Heathrow is the biggest single source of pollution in London – indeed in Britain – and air pollution was a major issue when the government was trying to push through a third runway. A third runway, with all the extra flights, would have increased (or prevented an improvement) in air pollution such that legal action from the EU was threatened.
It should also be noted that the main breaches in air pollution standards arising from a third runway would have been nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and not particulates, the subject of the report here.
Notwithstanding these points, it is clear that air pollution from Heathrow is significant and potentially deadly. Air pollution experts are happy to apportion ambient pollution to sources such as road traffic and airports. Similarly, epidemiologists such as Dr Milner are prepared to estimate the health impacts associated with ambient air pollution. But no estimates exist on the health impacts of a particular source such as Heathrow although any such estimate would be subject to wide error limits. The issue warrants further research.