With the evidence stacking up, will a new official public health report prompt the government to put serious cash behind cycling?

Failure to tackle air pollution kills over 25,000 per year

Air pollution has been making the headlines recently, but this week’s report from the government’s own Public Health England (PHE) has linked long-term exposure to pollution to a shocking 25,000 deaths, in 2010. 

With the health benefits of cycling in reducing obesity and the burden on the NHS already well covered, this is yet another reason for improving cycling conditions. So expect a few billion to be dedicated to cycle lanes, cycle traffic lights, etc, in the near future. Probably.

Location is one of the deciding factors in the likelihood of air pollution killing you. The report said: "Central estimates of the fraction of mortality attributable to long-term exposure to current levels of anthropogenic (human-made) particulate air pollution range from around 2.5 per cent in some local authorities in rural areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland and between 3 and 5 per cent in Wales, to over 8 per cent in some London boroughs."

Cycle advocates, including British Cycling’s campaigns manager Martin Key, have had their say: "With almost daily news stories about obesity related illnesses and now air pollution, it is clearer than ever that more cycling is the answer to many of the problems we face in Britain today. If local and national government put sustained and targeted investment into improving our roads and making them fit for cycling, we will without doubt create healthier, happier communities and more pleasant places to live.

"We commissioned research that has shown that if just one in 10 trips in Britain were made by bike it would reduce C02 emissions by 6%. Coupled with £2.5 billion savings for the NHS on obesity-related illnesses over the next decade, cycling is a solution that makes good economic sense."

Philip Insall, Health Director at sustainable transport charity Sustrans, said: “Past months have brought shocking news on air quality in the UK, with the government facing action in the European court over its failure to address pollution.

“If the water in our taps were causing this many deaths, the government response would be immediate."
Philip Insall, Sustrans

“This new report shows the impact in terms of lives lost, broken down to local authority area. It would be unfair to pick out any one council, because all are equally shamed by these figures, but a typical city saw 200 deaths and more than 2,000 life years lost in 2010, because we are just not tackling air pollution.

“Note that this report is not referring to last week’s brief, extreme air quality episode. This has an impact over and above the long-term air problem.

“England’s Director of Health Protection, Dr Paul Cosford, comments that a shift from car travel to walking and cycling – the non-polluting ways of travelling – would not only improve air quality but also lead to better health through physical activity. How true!

“If the water in our taps were causing this many deaths, the government response would be immediate. So why are we not – as some European cities already do – acting to restrict motor vehicle use in the most polluted areas? It cannot be acceptable that in the 21st century, we are still being poisoned by the toxic gases coming out of our neighbours’ exhaust pipes.”

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