New data from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that over 90% of the UK population lives in areas where levels of ultra-fine particle air pollution exceed WHO limits.
The findings are based on a new air quality model, developed by an international team of scientists led by the University of Bath to map levels of particulate matter known as PM2.5.
The WHO recommended limit is 10 micrograms per cubic metre
These particles include sulphate, nitrates and black carbon and can penetrate deep into the lungs and into the cardiovascular system, posing 'considerable risk to human health'.
The model estimates that more than 90% of the UK population lives in areas where levels of PM2.5 are higher than WHO air quality limits.
The main sources of PM2.5 are transport, the burning of waste and household fuel, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities.
Dr Gavin Shaddick of the University of Bath, who led the international research team, said: ‘Globally, air pollution presents a major risk to public health and a substantial number of lives could be saved if levels of air pollution were reduced.
‘The model we have developed provides a wealth of information related to air quality around the world and highlights areas that exceed WHO air quality limits. This information is vital for health impact assessment, informing policy and the development of mitigation strategies.’
The University of Bath said it is estimated that 3 million deaths a year globally can be attributed to outdoor air pollution.
In the UK it is estimated that air pollution, including both particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, causes around 40,000 premature deaths annually.
The university said the data represents the most detailed outdoor air pollution-related data ever reported by WHO and shows that 92% of the world’s population live in areas where this type of air pollution exceeds WHO limits.