Launching the report, the Quantification of the Effects of Air Pollution on Health in the United Kingdom, Kenneth Calman, chief medical officer, said yesterday:
'This is the first report which attempts to quantify the impact of short term air pollution on the health of people living in the UK. It suggests that the deaths of between 12,000 and 24,000 vulnerable people may be brought forward and between 14,000 and 24,000 hospital admissions and readmissions may be associated with short term air pollution each year.
'I must emphasise that these are not necessarily extra deaths or hospital admissions. The people most likely to be affected by air pollution are those who are already vulnerable - the frail, and those
'A similar comparison would be with deaths and hospital admissions brought about by cold weather in winter. And I would stress that air pollution, at the levels usually experienced in the UK, is unlikely
to have any short-term effects on healthy individuals.
'At the moment we are not sure how big a public health problem this represents. Before we can assess this, we need to establish the extent to which these deaths and hospital admissions are advanced.
It is likely to vary, with the majority of cases perhaps affected by as little as a few days, some by a few weeks, and others which may be affected over a somewhat longer period.
'The committee has only been able to quantify the short-term effects in its report. We still do not know the extent of the long-term effects.
'Despite these uncertainties, this is an issue which we are taking very seriously. More research is needed to refine these estimates in order to allow a better assessment of the importance of these effects in public health terms. Research is already underway to address some of the issues highlighted in the report.
'Not all evidence for the effects of air pollution on health can be quantified. I have therefore asked the committee to carry out a review of the qualitative impacts on health of major air pollutants. It is now some years since the committee first carried out its comprehensive reviews of the health effects of air pollutants and it is time this evidence was updated in the light of recent findings. Indeed the department of health's own research programme has made a significant contribution to these.'
1. The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants was asked to produce a report to quantify, as far as practicable, the health effects of current levels of air pollution in the UK. This work, and that of an expert group of economists set up by the Department of Health to do an economic appraisal of the benefits of reducing air pollution, will be an integral part of the review of the UK National Air Quality Strategy announced by the government earlier this year and due for completion by the end of this year.
2. An information pack on air pollution and health is available from the Department of Health Publications Centre, PO Box 410, Wetherby,
LS23 7LN (Fax: 01937 845381).
3. Copies of the report, The Quantification of the Effects of Air Pollution on Health in the United Kingdom, are available from the Stationery Office, price£16.50, ISBN 0-11-322102-9.