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Millions at risk from polluted air too dangerous to breathe–Royal College of Physicians

October 31, 2017

By Paul Homewood



h/t Mark Rogers



The Royal College of Physicians are the latest to jump on the air pollution scare:




Millions of people in British cities are inhaling air considered by the World Health Organisation to be too dangerous to breathe, a report has shown.

Out of 51 UK cities and towns listed in an air-quality database, 44 fail the WHO’s test for fine sooty particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that have been linked to heart disease and premature death.

Exposure to the particles, known as PM2.5s, should not exceed ten micrograms per cubic metre of air, according to the health organisation.

But in numerous British population centres annual average levels are higher, sometimes by a significant degree, it is claimed.

Glasgow emerged as one of the most polluted cities, with a PM2.5 concentration of 16 micrograms per cubic metre.

London and Leeds both had 15 micrograms of the particles in every cubic metre-sized parcel of air, Cardiff and Birmingham 14, and Manchester 13.

Perhaps surprisingly, the seaside resort of Eastbourne and port city of Southampton equalled London’s exposure level, while Oxford was surrounded by air as polluted by fine particles as Cardiff.

Each year, outdoor air pollution is estimated to cause 40,000 premature deaths in the UK — up to 9,000 in London alone — and cost the country £22.6 billion.

Dr Toby Hillman, one of the report’s authors from the Royal College of Physicians, said: “There isn’t a safe limit for the amount of pollution that’s been defined as yet and we know the effects of poor air quality run from cradle to grave; it’s a lifetime threat to human health.

“This is a really direct and tangible impact on UK health from the drivers of climate change, and taking action on air quality should be a priority.”

The impact of air pollution in UK cities forms part of a major investigation, led by a top medical journal, looking at the health and social costs of climate change around the world.

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change brought together 24 institutions and intergovernmental organisations including the WHO and World Meteorological Organisation.

It found that global exposure to dangerous levels of air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels had increased by 11.2 per cent since 1990, with more than 70 per cent of cities exceeding WHO PM2.5 limits.

Many British cities and towns also broke the WHO limits for PM10s, slightly larger sooty specks considered less of a hazard than ultra-fine particles but still harmful to health.

The authors acknowledged that European Union air-quality guidelines were far less stringent than those of the WHO, with an upper safety limit for PM2.5s of 25 micrograms per cubic metre. However, they said the WHO limits represented a “safer threshold”.

The report added that 802 London schools and a high proportion of the capital’s hospitals and clinics were located in highly polluted areas “potentially putting some of society’s most vulnerable people at risk”.

Diesel-powered vehicles, which generate pollution particles, were one of the “key drivers” of poor air quality in towns and cities in the UK, said Dr Hillman.

“Unfortunately previous policies about encouraging diesel adoption have led to an increase in the amount of diesel-related pollution,” he said.


First of all, let’s remember that emissions of PM2.5s has fallen dramatically since 1970:




Ironically, as DEFRA point out, road transport only accounts for 13% of PM2.5, with the bulk coming from combustion. This in turn is dominated by the use of wood as a domestic fuel:



As the Times article points out, the authors acknowledged that European Union air-quality guidelines were far less stringent than those of the WHO, with an upper safety limit for PM2.5s of 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

Even the highest readings in London and Leeds of 15 micrograms per cubic metre are well within this safety limit.

Indeed, according to the Met Office Air Quality Index, even measurements of 35 µg m−3  are regarded as low:





Currently the whole of the UK is within the low band for overall air quality, though ironically the worst areas are in the South West and Scottish Highlands where you would expect the best air quality. (Maybe this tells us something about how low our levels of air pollution really are).




Locally around Yorkshire, PM 2.5s are about 14 µgm-3:




Quite why the RCP chooses to ignore EU guidelines and cherry pick the WHO ones is a mystery. After all, this is the same WHO who recently appointed a certain Robert Mugabe to be their goodwill ambassador!

And if you want to know what real pollution looks like, just check out the map below that the Guardian published last year.


ScreenHunter_1499 Oct. 31 13.33


This latest report is a really dishonest attempt to influence public policy by the RCP, who appear to have their own agenda.

In the meantime, we are all entitled to wonder why we all did not die years ago if our air is now too dangerous to breathe.



Full details of the report are available from the RCP here:

  1. HotScot permalink
    October 31, 2017 2:09 pm

    And my God, isn’t the BBC hitting it hard again today!

    “Emissions gap remains ‘alarmingly high’ says UN”

    They must be feeling insecure. Perhaps it’s the falling global temperatures following El Ninio, threatening to pitch us back into the ‘pause’.

    Radio 2 news is, as usual, trumpeting the alarm every hour.

  2. Malcolm Bell permalink
    October 31, 2017 2:15 pm

    As you imply Paul – why are we all
    living longer than ever in history?

    I keep asking people about this strange 40k who die prematurely (although the medics do not keep records that can provide that data). How much prematurely are they dying – twenty years, ten years, a year, a month?

    Changing the subject, did you see the lady on the BBC news last night saying the “dramatic” increase in CO2 was causing widespread crop failure? I think that is absolutely wrong – wverything is growing like mad, notably in the Sahel and such like. She wasn’t challenged of course but clearly endorsed by the presenter.

    • richard permalink
      October 31, 2017 5:56 pm

      more like bumper crops world wide.

  3. Tim Hammond permalink
    October 31, 2017 2:31 pm

    More to the point, where are all the survivors? If PMs have fallen so much, we should be able to show hundreds of thousands of people now alive who otherwise would not be, along with drastic reductions in the claimed health problems caused by PMs, all correlated with the reductions.

    Oddly the “research” doesn’t look at that, but instead shows extremely low risk ratios even when dredging for results and bodies, all the while ignoring the Exposure Fallacy.

    I don’t think there is a scare that is more fabricated than this one.

    • Paddy permalink
      November 1, 2017 7:26 am

      PM2.5 is the new CO2. And if you go on breathing pure air for too long – you die !

  4. NeilC permalink
    October 31, 2017 2:46 pm

    Anything spouted by all organisations within the UN, is not worth the vast amounts of paper it is written on. Fake news all the time. Abley passed on via the BBC, Grauniad, FoE, WWF Greenpiss and adhered to by our RED/green leadership. Whatever happen to the Conservative party?

    Just remember Agenda 21 – the UN want to deindustrialise the western world.

    If there are 40k premature deaths prove it – where is the evidence. Show me one death certificate which shows a person died from excess pollution in the wester world.

    How come populations in western world countries are living longer with all these death, it’s beyond logic.

  5. A C Osborn permalink
    October 31, 2017 2:50 pm

    Haven’t you realised yet, we are just the ghosts of those who died during the 50s, 60, and 70s.
    We are not really here in the present, we are all living in the past.
    Which is why we don’t believe all the current scare stories, we are immune to it.

  6. Pablo permalink
    October 31, 2017 2:51 pm

    I have been privileged to enjoy breathing rural UK air for many years, but not so in town.
    In my experience the quality of air in the average market town’s high street has been destroyed by the Diseasel and I Fume everytime one goes by!

    • October 31, 2017 4:29 pm

      I haven’t noticed any difference at all in the a last 50 years

  7. Curious George permalink
    October 31, 2017 3:03 pm

    Great Britain fails a WHO (Dr. Mugabe) test again.

  8. October 31, 2017 3:04 pm

    These physicians and BBC types obviously didn’t live in Sheffield after the war. It’s amazing how many of all those Yorkshire baby-boomers are still alive today.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      November 1, 2017 9:45 am

      Phillip, I vividly remember driving up the M1 from the Midlands to t’North 40 years ago and, with all the windows in the car tight closed, you just knew when you were getting near to Sheffield! (You just used your nose).
      It’s certainly not like that today – though for many other reasons (deindustrialisation?).

  9. rms permalink
    October 31, 2017 3:12 pm

    Also worth reading Steve Milloy’s book to understand the basis of the EPA in USA limits on PM2.5 (baseless, pretty much), and then find from other research that Europe’s limits are based on EPA in USA. If not, then what is the basis, I wonder?

  10. October 31, 2017 3:22 pm

    Dr. James Enstrom, retired researcher from the UCLA School of Public Health, points out that a person breathing in 15 micrograms of small particles per cubic meter would inhale only about one teaspoon of these microscopic particles over an 80-year lifespan. (from

  11. Roy Hartwell permalink
    October 31, 2017 3:24 pm

    Anyone who was alive in the ’50s and ’60s should be laughing out loud at these sort of statements. Smogs, lead from leaded petrol and plumbing. We shouldn’t be alive now but we are AND living longer. Given the reduction in coal and wood (?) used for domestic heating/cooking we probably have never lived in a cleaner atmosphere.

  12. Sean permalink
    October 31, 2017 4:13 pm

    The real killer is poverty. The NY Times had an article on two counties, one a northern Virginia Washington DC suburb and the other a rural county in West Virginia. Poverty is likely erasing more than 10 years of life expectancy. The same can be seen on a global basis at this site.
    The upshot is you make people poorer with policies that chase some hard to measure pollution metric based extrapolations to very small values that get multiplied by very large populations while ignoring the economic implications. I guess so long as that happens only to deplorable people who live in flyover country (non coastal USA) the economic and political elite can still pat themselves on the back for all the good they do.

  13. October 31, 2017 4:38 pm

    Billions of people are at risk from thousands of hazards, leading to millions of premature deaths each year.

  14. Athelstan permalink
    October 31, 2017 4:48 pm

    When did the ants of Common Purpose overrun the offices of the RCP?

    Medical ethics speared, poisoned, stamped into the dust by the dishonesty of statisticians, false extrapolation and lobbyists demanding their pet investments [stuff to the diesel heads and useful vehicular transport – we want YOUR money to be spent boondoggles, useless technology = electric buggies] are legitmised through lies, damned lies and more specious linkages.

    Each year, outdoor air pollution is estimated to cause 40,000 premature deaths in the UK — up to 9,000 in London alone — and cost the country £22.6 billion.

    Dr Toby Hillman, one of the report’s authors from the Royal College of Physicians, said: “There isn’t a safe limit for the amount of pollution that’s been defined as yet and we know the effects of poor air quality run from cradle to grave; it’s a lifetime threat to human health.

    “This is a really direct and tangible impact on UK health from the drivers of climate change, and taking action on air quality should be a priority.”

    “There isn’t a safe limit for the amount of pollution that’s been defined as yet”

    and nature is usually the culprit = a unknown known…. but we know figures can be willfully manipulated Toby you jug.

    “cost the country £22.6 billion” twenty two POINT SIX! how very exact, but I don’t suppose that the calculations and methodology used to arrive at this extraordinary statistic could be provided for us all to check? Nope? Thought not.

    It’s disppointing that the RCP can stoop so effin low but then for Socialists the end always justifies the means.


    And finally, does it get, nay can it get any dafter?

    Hmm, you betcha!

    This is pure fiction but not much to with any science…………….

    As the climate warms, sea surface temperatures increase.

    The warmer water at the ocean’s surface is then less able to mix with the colder, denser water below.

    This increase in ocean stratification means that the water that was cooled after the volcanic eruption becomes trapped at the surface instead of mixing deeper into the ocean, reducing the heat released into the atmosphere.

    The scientists also found that the future eruption would have a larger effect on rainfall than the historical eruption of Mount Tambora.

    Cooler sea surface temperatures decrease the amount of water that evaporates into the atmosphere and decrease global average precipitation.

    Daily Mail LINK HERE

  15. tom0mason permalink
    October 31, 2017 4:52 pm

    Maybe we should crank-up the wood burning and bring on a proper pea-souper of smog and measure the results to get a better idea of mortality rates from particulates in the atmosphere?
    Maybe not…

    However also of note is that nature in all its glory continuously pushes lots of particulates into the atmosphere. Go to any forested area, or heath land and measure it there. Not just particulates but also volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — “VOCs produced by trees are not as toxic to human health as those emitted by paint and pesticides, which can cause headaches and irritate our eyes and lungs. However, once in the atmosphere, all VOCs react with other airborne chemicals to form air pollution.” Umm, “not as toxic to human health” but still not nice! ( )
    The shores of Britain are continuously assailed with salt and sand dust particles. In fact it’s hard to find a particulate free area on the globe, so I suppose by the metric of “Dr Toby Hillman, one of the report’s authors from the Royal College of Physicians, said: “There isn’t a safe limit for the amount of pollution that’s been defined as yet and we know the effects of poor air quality run from cradle to grave; it’s a lifetime threat to human health.” we’re all going to die prematurely — whatever that can mean.

  16. October 31, 2017 5:16 pm

    Unfortunately medical science has jumped on the climate cash bandwagon. They see that the funding goes to those who declare dangers and catastrophes. With Bonn COP23 coming up, one theme is that climate change is a public health crisis. For example, the lancet board mentioned above is trumpeting the bad news.

    Christiana Figueres, chair of the Lancet Countdown’s high-level advisory board and former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said, “The report lays bare the impact that climate change is having on our health today. It also shows that tackling climate change directly, unequivocally and immediately improves global health. It’s as simple as that.’’

    • November 1, 2017 1:38 pm

      The lovely Christiana also admitted that it was not about climate change, but ending capitalism. She is a member of the Costa Rica National Liberation Party. Any questions?

  17. David permalink
    October 31, 2017 5:28 pm

    Do these lefty eco nuts think that by destroying our developed western system they are simply going to destroy the lives of rich drivers of gas guzzelling super cars? As always it will be the poor who will suffer as with the poor drivers of older cars forced to pay £21.50 for their essential work journeys in London.

  18. Svend Ferdinandsen permalink
    October 31, 2017 6:49 pm

    Early death is worse than normal death, because it is not obvious, and no one have ever observed a person suffering from early death.It is a scare you can only imagine and there is no cure for imagined scares.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      November 1, 2017 1:56 pm

      That is the problem as I don’t know when I am due to die so therefore won’t know if I die early and should be upset.

  19. Broadlands permalink
    October 31, 2017 7:21 pm

    It’s Halloween in the US… Is this a trick? No mention of that scary “pollutant”… carbon dioxide?

  20. Doug permalink
    October 31, 2017 8:48 pm

    Doctors always know best.
    They said thalidomide was safe and that MMR caused autism.
    Clever RCP doctors.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      November 1, 2017 2:01 pm

      They opposed the idea that MMR caused autism and sought to destroy Dr Wakefield. I happen to know two people who have children that were normal prior to MMR and then became autistic so believe there is something to investigate here but big pharma wouldn’t want exposing on this one. If it ever came to it I would go for separate jabs.

  21. john cooknell permalink
    October 31, 2017 9:40 pm

    A Paradox!
    If London is so air polluted and dangerous to health, why does the mortality data from the ONS show that life expectancy is longer in London than other less air polluted areas of UK?

    • Athelstan permalink
      October 31, 2017 11:57 pm

      Because “dangerous air pollution” – it’s a crock.

  22. Gamecock permalink
    October 31, 2017 10:46 pm

    ‘particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that have been linked to heart disease and premature death’

    Not by scientists.

    ‘Millions at risk from polluted air too dangerous to breathe’

    Not breathing is fatal. Please breath, in spite of what The Times tells you.

  23. Geoff Sherrington permalink
    November 1, 2017 12:50 am

    Analytical chemistry was my first main career activity. It taught me to largely disregard the accuracy of figures, the likes of which populate the graphs above. There is no way that you can tell cities apart to validly conclude that “London and Leeds both had 15 micrograms of the particles in every cubic metre-sized parcel of air, Cardiff and Birmingham 14, and Manchester 13.” If you think for a moment, the mere placement of the sampling sites has a huge error – close to an emitting factory or not. Day versus night. Wet weather versus dry. and so on, with innumerable confounding variables including, probably, some not even measured or thought of. Geoff.

    • martinbrumby permalink
      November 1, 2017 7:25 am

      In fact most monitors have been installed at kerb sides or on traffic islands and normally at the most congested junction that can be found in a city (York is a good example).
      No-one breathes this air for longer than a few minutes, even cyclists (who mostly ignore traffic lights anyway).
      Another GangGreen shroudwaving bullshit exercise.

      • Athelstan permalink
        November 1, 2017 7:56 am

        + 1000!

  24. Europeanonion permalink
    November 1, 2017 9:10 am

    The reality of soot and particulates was known about a decade ago and yet interfering, doing anything as long as it is seen as doing something, strongly endorsed the use of diesel powered cars. But apart from the idea of burning diesel for motive power lies the recent government announcements about the shortcomings of the British road system, particularly the clearance time for motorway obstructions and the number of regular queues encountered on the road systems generally.

    Add to this that most traffic ‘calming’ initiatives involve vehicles travelling at speeds whereby they are at the least efficient. Cars may produce pollutants but stationary cars burning fuels inefficiently are a real menace brought about by the inadequacy of the engineering of the roads. It has been increasingly common to treat signage, street furniture, as the stalwart against all that ails us and all that has done is to make the highways dramatically more dangerous through the divided attention of the driver; to grossly neglect the quality of road surfaces, which has further distracted motorists.

    Another factor in the whole debacle has been the determination to make cities vehicle friendly. Many a beautiful town has been ruined by this imperative, Bath for one. The
    legacy of medieval road systems on which many of our old towns were left with were hedges against modern road construction and would probably be the better for it.

    Yesterday I saw that which, hitherto, we only saw depicted in China, people working around with scarves against their mouths. What could be more divisive than making the private car public enemy number one. The Brave New World nod in the direction of driver-less cars is a direct affront to freedom. How many routs will be made available to such contraptions? We already have driver-less cars, they are called trains. If, instead of massively expensive schemes like HS2 were canned, schemes that apply to but a tiny part of the broader system, and in its stead more routes were made available, reliability and comfort improved, we would have the same effect that is attached to the introduction of these ‘cars’. Trains are an under-used resource where miles of track are lightly used because a system has not been alighted on that will allow a greater density of use. These existing ‘vehicles’ have the added benefit of having unrestricted access to the heart of many a city and obviate the necessity for driving one’s car to retail and work destinations.

    There is even a possibility for tethered dirigibles (on zip wires) that would require not piloting and could fly above road and rail routes, could deliver people to tower blocks at any level and would not use additional land. Whatever the solution it is awful to behold states with all their resource, with access to all manner of research and with the prize of the good will of the public who are hidebound by pressure groups, timidity and introspection. I feel that there is a revolution immanent but it will only be at the behest of some sort of maverick thinking and some robust denial of small minds and the what if generation. We deserve better than what we have. The first step, ban the domestic wood fire. They are toxic.

  25. November 1, 2017 1:47 pm

    Cos temperature won’t go up : Air Pollution is the new Climate Change
    … even tho the air is way cleaner than 40 years ago
    WHO report PR is across all media
    … Can you tell there is a big Climate Conference coming up ?

    Figs are suspect
    I’m in the worst place in whole country Scunthorpe
    but Scunthorpe is quite small, no house is more than 1 mile from open fields, and there is no high rise really.
    And its on a hill.
    On the steelworks is very dirty, such that your car bodywork gets damaged. But unlike decades ago, bedsheets on washing lines don’t get dirty.
    At the edges at the end of summer there is obvious dust from the grain harvesting.
    Look Eastbourne is #3 at 15ppm equal yet its on the south coast.

    What counts is actual particulates reaching your lungs, and even then it’s not necessarily damaging. Just cos one park in a city is particularly sunny that doesn’t mean everyone in that city gets sun skin cancer.

  26. November 1, 2017 1:53 pm

    Where have people naturally located towns which have become cities? Where there was a water source for consumption and navigation. So we find major cities along tributaries which due to their erosive jobs, are in valleys. River valleys are subject to temperature inversions which serve to keep the local atmosphere and substances in it from dissipating.

    When I was a child, a trip 72 miles north to Pittsburgh with all of the steel mills, meant arriving back home somewhat grimy. There were bee-hive coke ovens around Morgantown, producing coke for the steel industry. We used to drive out to see them at night. Gob piles of overburden and waste rock from coal mining caught on fire from spontaneous combustion and smoldered for years. Finally it was learned how high they could be piled before the fire and lower piles resulted.

    None of my family has suffered from lung diseases or other ones which are not related to old age. Just add the medical profession to the growing list of those whose pronouncements and studies cannot be trusted.

  27. Gerry, England permalink
    November 1, 2017 2:04 pm

    During 1990 I drove a van in London and during a period of hot still weather I could feel a tightness in my chest that was unpleasant and disappeared when I drove out of London to my home out on the south-west edge of the built up sprawl. I have been working in Victoria and the City of London for 8 years now and have not had the same feeling. Take a look at the graphs and you can see a big difference between then and now.

  28. Barry Capsey permalink
    November 1, 2017 6:08 pm

    Even after a full-blown rebuff regarding the mythical 40,000 premature deaths, these goons are STILL propounding that ludicrous figure.

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