People of colour again found to suffer worse air pollution

A new study has found that minority groups living in poorer UK neighbourhoods are feeling the effects of atmospheric pollutants disproportionately, supporting previous analyses. 

People of colour are far more likely to suffer the worst of air pollution in Britain compared with white communities, according to new research published by Friends of the Earth. 

white concrete building during daytime

The analysis backs up a number of previous studies that have pointed to similar patterns. This latest work looked at 2,546 neighbourhoods in the UK which are currently recording levels of either nitrogen dioxide (NO2) or fine particulate matter (PM2.5), or both, at double the recommended World Health Organisation (WHO) maximum limits.

It found that despite car ownership in these areas being relatively low against the national average, the locations were exposed to the ill-effects of toxic air created by traffic and congestion on the roads, with demographics pointing to people of colour being three times more likely to live in these places compared to white British. 

Additionally, there were 1,737 schools in the neighbourhoods, 924 of which recorded levels of both the pollutants at twice WHO guidelines. All are in London. Overall, more than 1m under-18s live in these areas, and 750,000 under-12s: particularly worrying figures considering children and younger adults are known to have increased vulnerability to air pollution. 

‘This latest data is shocking, but unsurprising. It re-emphasises the urgency with which our country, and London particularly, needs action on air pollution. Everyone deserves a right to breathe clean air, particularly children, who are worst impacted because their lungs are still developing,’ said Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, Founder and Director of the Ella Roberta Foundation, established after her nine-year-old daughter died in 2013 and became the first case in which air pollution was listed as a cause of death in Britain. 

‘Liz Truss, the new PM, needs to tackle this as a matter of urgency. This is something we need to see by the end of October, when the new targets must be set – and currently, the government’s ambitions fall well short of the latest WHO guidelines. Not only is a more ambitious target achievable by 2030, it’s vital, so in future no child has to suffer like my daughter did,’ she continued. 

In August, the Runnymede Trust UK and Greenpeace UK identified so-called ‘air pollution sacrifice neighbourhoods’ that were home to large Black and minority communities. 


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