Think tank says ‘invisible’ pollution is public health problem comparable to obesity and alcohol

Nitrogen dioxide levels are as bad in London as they are in Beijing, the last city to host the Summer Olympic Games and one with an at best dubious air quality record, according to a report from UK think tank Policy Exchange.

The high levels are worrying because nitrogen dioxide has been linked with emphysema, bronchitis and heart disease. Road transport accounts for more than half of the NOx (nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen dioxide combined) emitted in Greater London. And the proportion of nitrogen dioxide is rising as diesel engine vehicles – which produce more nitrogen dioxide than petrol engine equivalents – become more popular.

The report says that pollution is comparable to obesity and alcohol as a public health problem in the UK. Over 4000 deaths in London, and around 29,000 deaths across the UK each year, are attributable to fine particulate air pollution caused by diesel engine vehicles – at a cost to the economy of £15bn. But pollution remains an ‘invisible’ problem that fails to attract the attention it warrants.

That may start to change as all eyes turn to London this summer.