Zoning in on clean air

Our new report finds that 24 million people across the UK are breathing in toxic air that is damaging their lungs and their ability to breathe. The debilitating impact air pollution is having on people’s lives and lungs cannot be overstated, with up to 36,000 premature deaths attributable to air pollution every single year in the UK.

Executive summary

At Asthma + Lung UK, we are fighting for everyone’s right to breathe. As the nation’s lung charity we are here for the one in five people who will be affected by a lung condition in their lifetime. For too long, the nation’s lung health has been side-lined, under-treated and under-resourced. This is inexcusable when lung conditions are the third leading cause of death in the UK and millions are affected by breathlessness, which can be terrifying and limit people’s ability to get on with their lives. 

We estimate that 24 million people in urban areas in England are breathing toxic air, this figure includes 5.5 million children under 18 and at least 1.4 million people living with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Air pollution is a public health emergency responsible for up to 36,000 premature deaths in the UK each year, and we have been campaigning to reduce the devastating toll it takes on everyone, including people with lung conditions. 

The UK has been in breach of legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) since targets were introduced in 2010. This is why, in 2017, following several legal cases brought in front of the High Court, over 60 local authorities were mandated by the government to take urgent action on toxic air and reduce NO2 to levels under legal limits. This report examines the progress that has been made towards clearing up air pollution since 2017 and compares the impact different policy options have had across the UK, in particular clean air zones.