Living within 50 metres (164 feet) of a major road can increase the risk of lung cancer by up to 10%, a report has said.
The study, written by King’s College London and released by a coalition of 15 health and environment NGOs, showed that proximity can also stunt children’s lung development by up to 14%.
Conducted across 13 different cities in the UK and Poland, the research suggested that air pollution contributes to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and bronchitis.
The report analysed 13 different health conditions in people living in high pollution areas and compared them to the general population, focusing not just on hospital admissions and deaths but also symptoms such as chest infections.
The findings showed that if air pollution was cut by one fifth, there would be 3,865 fewer cases of children with bronchitic symptoms in London, 328 in Birmingham, 94 in Bristol, 85 in Liverpool, 85 in Manchester, 134 in Nottingham, 38 in Oxford and 69 in Southampton, the researchers said.
The study also found that roadside air pollution stunted lung growth in children by approximately 14% in Oxford, 13% in London, 8% in Birmingham, 5% in Liverpool, 3% in Nottingham and 4% in Southampton.
Ahead of the General Election on December 12, the coalition, which includes the British Lung Foundation and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, is calling for all parties to commit to a legally binding target to meet the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) air quality guidelines by 2030.
Dr Rob Hughes, senior fellow at the Clean Air Fund, said: “Air pollution makes us, and especially our children, sick from cradle to the grave, but is often invisible.
“This impressive research makes this public health crisis – which affects people all across the UK – visible, and shows the urgency with which all political parties must prioritise cleaning up our air.”
In addition, the group is urging for the establishment of a national network of Clean Air Zones across the UK.
The Ultra Low Emission zone introduced earlier this year in London – where one third of residents are estimated to live near a busy road – has already impacted air pollution, with nitrogen dioxide levels falling by 29%.
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, echoed the calls for the UK government to legally commit to WHO targets to clean up the country’s “dangerous” air.
She said: “It seems as if every day we see more and more evidence of the terrible health effects air pollution is having on our lungs.
“It’s the most vulnerable that are hit hardest.
“We know air pollution stunts our children’s still-developing lungs and those with a lung condition can find their symptoms are made far worse by poor air quality.”