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Southend residents are breathing air so polluted that it is having the same impact as smoking more than 120 cigarettes a year, a leading charity has warned.
The British Heart Foundation is urging the Government to declare air pollution as a “public health emergency” after revealing the impact it is having on towns and cities across the country.
Their analysis found that levels in Southend are so high that it is the equivalent of smoking 124 cigarettes each year.
The charity has said they want national targets to be introduced by the Government to reduce air pollution by 2030.
Liberal Democrat councillor Carole Mulroney, who oversees environment, said: “Obviously a report from an eminent organisation such as the British Heart Foundation has to be taken seriously.
“So, it is important that we work with our Public Health colleagues and air quality officers and do everything we can to reduce the levels of air pollution.
“This is at the heart of the environmental agenda for the joint administration.
“We are moving forward with better monitoring techniques which provide us with better quality of information and enable our officers to look at the most appropriate action to take.
“We have a heavily populated area, heavy traffic concentrations and, of course, the airport, so there are many challenges.
“This is why we need Government to support all local authorities with funding and legislation to enable us to carry out these tasks as quickly as possible and for local businesses to buy into the need for clean air within their own fields of expertise so that this type of statistic becomes a thing of the past.”
High levels of pollution can have a “seriously detrimental effect on heart health”, according to the British Heart Foundation, and they can increase the risk of heart attacks, while also making existing health issues worse.
Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the charity, said: “Air pollution is a major public health emergency and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves.
“Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame.
“As these figures show, the effect of air pollution on our heart and circulatory system is profound, and we have no choice over the air we breathe in the places we live.
“Legislation was passed over a decade ago to protect people from passive smoke, and similarly decisive must be taken to protect people from air pollution.”
Southend Council recently declared a climate emergency and pledged to have the entire borough be carbon neutral by 2030.
However, they have warned this could cost more than £1billion and will require significant funding from central Government.
Neighbouring Thurrock, was revealed to have even worse levels of pollution with the town being rated the UK’s seventh worst town for pollution with levels so high that it is like smoking 138 cigarettes a year.