Living and working in a major city poses a greater health risk than exposure to the level of radiation suffered by those caught up in the Chernobyl disaster.

Urban air pollution in some of our main cities is now so great that many of us have a shorter life expectancy than the emergency workers who were sent into the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl site straight after the accident.

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution claims that pollution was responsible for 24,000 premature deaths in Britain every year. Sir John Lawton, chairman of the commission, said the government had consistently failed to tackle rising levels of chemicals in the atmosphere in cities.

Other findings show that women living in areas of high air pollution were at greater risk of heart disease and death, while children living within 500m of motorways suffered more permanent lung damage and lower life expectancy, probably because of their greater exposure to pollutants in vehicle fumes.

The commission’s study also found that passive smoking and obesity can have a massive long-term impact that is continually being ignored.

The Guardian has helpfully followed up its coverage of the report with the top ten tips to living in our polluted cities. 

So often we see stories about how cities around the world, invariably in developing or emerging economies, are the most polluted on the planet. And yet this study concludes that we have reason for serious concern much closer to home.

The commission is now calling on the government to do more to tackle pollution in urban areas and ensure they become more environmentally sustainable and healthier places to live.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have certainly talked a good fight regarding the environment, but they have failed to back up the words with decisive action. Equally, it now seems that David Cameron’s trip to the frozen wastes to highlight the impact of climate change – which always smacked more of PR opportunity than serious political statement – could have been cancelled in favour of hosting a press conference outside his own London doorstep.

This report provides further proof – if it was needed – that the green credentials of our senior politicians offer more in the way of style than substance.


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