Sudden spikes in air pollution trigger hundreds more heart attacks, strokes and acute asthma attacks on those days, researchers have found.
A team at King’s College London, who looked at data from London, Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton, found that days when pollutant levels were in the top half of the annual range saw an extra 124 cardiac arrests on average.
On days with high pollution levels, there were also 231 additional hospital admissions for stroke and an extra 193 children and adults were taken to hospital for asthma treatment.
Dr Heather Walton, of King’s College London’s environmental research group, said air pollution reduction policies concentrated in the main on effects connected to life expectancy.
“However, health studies show clear links with a much wider range of health effects,” she said.
In London, high pollution days caused an extra 87 cardiac arrests on average, an extra 144 strokes, and 74 children and 33 adults ended up in hospital with asthma-related issues.
Birmingham saw 12 more out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, 27 additional admissions for stroke and 26 more for asthma.
Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton saw between two and six more out-of-hospital heart attacks and up to 14 extra hospital admissions for both stroke and asthma on high-pollution days. Only in Derby was there no apparent increase.
The King’s College research suggests cutting air pollution by a fifth would decrease incidents of lung cancer by between 5% and 7% across the nine cities surveyed.
UK100 director Polly Billington told BBC News that local government needs additional powers and resources to address the public health crisis.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was “taking urgent action to improve air quality and tackle pollution” and that new legislation will “increase local powers to address key sources of air pollution”.