HEART and circulatory disease deaths attributed to air pollution could exceed 500 over the next decade in York, the British Heart Foundation has warned.

The charity says air pollution presents a ‘major public health emergency’ which must be urgently addressed by the new Government.

It is estimated that up to 11,000 heart and circulatory disease deaths are attributable to particulate air pollution in the UK every year.

The BHF says 560 people in the City of York Council area could suffer heart and circulatory disease deaths which could be attributed to air pollution in the next decade.

BHF-funded research has shown that high levels of air pollution can have a harmful effect on health, such as by making existing heart conditions worse and increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the BHF, said: “Every day, millions of us across the country are inhaling toxic particles which enter our blood and get stuck in our organs, raising our risk of heart attacks and stroke. Make no mistake, our toxic air is a public health emergency, and we haven’t done enough to tackle this threat to our society."

The BHF is calling for World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on particulate matter to be adopted in to UK law, and met by 2030.

The call comes as the charity has launched a hard-hitting campaign, 'You're full of it', to highlight that we are all unwittingly inhaling dangerous levels of particulate matter air pollution in towns and cities across the UK every day.

Mr West added: “We need to ensure that stricter, health-based air quality guidelines are adopted into law to protect the health of the nation as a matter of urgency. Clean Air legislation in the 1950s and 60s, and more recently the smoking ban in public places, show that government action can improve the air we breathe.

“Decision makers across the country owe it to future generations to help stop this alarming figure from becoming a reality. That’s why we are urging people to contact their MP and demand a change in the law.”

The warning from the BHF comes as City of York Council has awarded more than £1.6 million in funding to five bus companies to replace or refit up to 93 of their vehicles to help make them more environmentally-friendly.

Bus operators were invited to bid for Clean Air Zone (CAZ) funding to help them meet the cost of ‘retrofitting’ their vehicles with cleaner exhausts to meet the Euro VI emission standard, which sets maximum limits for certain harmful gases and particulate matter that a vehicle is allowed to emit.

Councillor Paula Widdowson, executive member for environment and climate change at City of York Council, said: “This campaign provides a stark reminder as to why this work is so important and is why in York we are doing a lot to improve air quality. Recently these include our Clean Air Zone work, which has seen us award over £1.6 million to five local bus operators to reduce NOx/ particulate emissions from their vehicles and hence improve air quality in the city centre."

She said the 'Kick the Habit' anti-idling campaign is also improving air quality by encouraging drivers to switch off their engines when parked up and waiting. Cllr Widdowson added: "We also continue to promote active travel through our work with schools and employers and provision of high quality off-road cycle and walking infrastructure – most recently the £4million investment in improving the Scarborough Bridge.

“This work is having a positive impact across York with one of the air quality zones in Fulford (where significant improvement was needed) has been removed because we were significantly below the limits for the last four years following work in the area.

“Our budget proposals include further in environmentally friendly initiatives, including increasing the number of electric vehicle chargers so this work can continue, improving air quality and increasing sustainable travel across York as we work to be carbon neutral by 2030.”

Cllr Carol Runciman, executive member for health and adult social care, said: “As well as the environmental benefits, we know there are so many health benefits to people young and old breathing in clean air.

“In addition to the ongoing air quality work our public health team provides a Health Trainer Service to support residents. Health trainers work with residents on a 1:1 basis to provide practical support to help people to improve their heart health. This could be providing advice around a healthy diet, undertaking a health check to help people find out what their current heart health is like, or supporting people to become more physically active.”

Labour councillor Jonny Crawshaw recently put forward a motion to City of York Council to ban non-essential private car journeys within York's city walls by 2023. He claimed the move would help City of York Council meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and improve the city’s air quality.

He also said that fewer cars on York’s roads would enable faster, more reliable public transport from the suburbs and villages into the city centre, and would make cycling feel safer and a more viable option for more people.

Councillors voted in favour of the plans by a majority.

Commenting on the projected figures from the BHF, he said: “It is currently estimated that up to 60 York residents die prematurely each year as a result of air pollution. The projected figures from the British Heart Foundation are alarming and show just how serious the issue of poor air quality is.

"Tackling exhaust emissions is clearly important but studies show that more than 50 per cent of roadside air pollution is caused by non-exhaust particles including dust from brake-blocks and tyre wear. So whilst I welcome measures such as clean-air zones, anti-idling campaigns and moves towards more electric vehicles this will only partially address the problem.

"Only when we change our behaviours and become less dependent on private cars will we truly address the issue of poor air quality. This is why it is so important that council has backed a motion to restrict and reduce non-essential car use whilst improving public transport, walking and cycling not just in the city centre but across the whole city.”

Currently, the UK subscribes to EU limits for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which is the pollutant with the most established links to health harms.

However, the limits set by the WHO are more stringent than the EU’s. The BHF is urging the new Government to adopt WHO guidelines into the reintroduced Environment Bill, with a requirement that these limits are met by 2030.