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Study suggests air pollution could shorten a child's life by up to seven months

dust particles and pollution from cars hanging over Birmingham. Credit: PA Images

Air pollution could shorten a child's life by up to seven months, a study on Birmingham has suggested.

Researchers at Kings College London have found that an eight-year-old child in Birmingham born in 2011 may die between two to seven months early if exposed over their lifetime to projected future pollution concentrations.

It is the first time new Government guidance on "mortality burdens" of air pollution has been applied in practice in a large city area.

The study looked at the combined impact of two pollutants - particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide - two of the leading causes of poor health from air pollution.

The impact was considered to be worse than some other major cities in the UK - with the report finding a higher loss of life expectancy in Birmingham than Manchester.

Taxis in Birmingham city centre Credit: PA Images

The study calculated the annual health cost of air pollution in Birmingham as between £190 million to £470 million per year.

Local leaders are calling for clean air zones to be established in major cities across the country.

Polly Billington, director of the UK100 network, which commissioned the research, said:

This report should be a wake-up call to policymakers not just in Birmingham but across the country.

We need to tackle this invisible killer, which is cutting the lives of children and causing health misery for thousands of adults.

By working together, local councils and central government can put in place ambitious and inclusive clean air zones to tackle the most polluting sources of dirty air and let us breathe freely."

– Polly Billington, director of the UK100 network
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Credit: PA Images

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:

Air quality has improved significantly in recent years, but air pollution continues to shorten lives which is why we are taking concerted action to tackle it.

We are working hard to reduce transport emissions and are already investing £3.5 billion to clean up our air, while our Clean Air Strategy has been commended by the World Health Organisation as an 'example for the rest of the world to follow.

Our Environment Bill will give legal force to that strategy and put environmental accountability at the heart of government."

– Spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The NHS says it welcomes the call for action.

NHS Credit: PA Images

2.6 million children in England are breathing in toxic fumes every day and now there is clear and frightening evidence that this could also shorten their lives.

The NHS is taking practical steps to reduce our effect on the environment, as well as treating those suffering the consequences of air pollution, yet we cannot win this fight alone and the growing consensus on the need for wider action across society is welcome."

– Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England