Outdoor air pollution is a major public health issue costing the UK economy £20bn a year and contributing to over 40,000 deaths a year. The nature of air pollution in the UK has changed over the decades. The black smoke and sulphur dioxide which were released into the atmosphere as a result of industrial and domestic coal burning have reduced substantially since the 1950s and the introduction of the first UK Clean Air Act in 1956. With road traffic increasing by a factor of 10 between 1949 and 2012, and total distance walked each year decreasing by 30% between 1995 and 20131, there is now increased emphasis on the contribution made by vehicular emissions to air quality.

The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) report on the effect on mortality of air pollution. Its report in 2010 suggested that anthropogenic particulate matter could have an effect on UK mortality of 29,000 extra deaths (in 2008), with a loss of total population life of 340,000 life-years and a loss of life expectancy from birth of approximately six months. Reports in 2015 have also reviewed evidence for a dose-response relationship between ground level ozone and hospital admissions and mortality, and have concluded that there is now sufficient evidence to consider nitrogen dioxide having an independent impact on health.

West Sussex has relatively low levels of air pollution, though there are areas where air quality objectives are exceeded, and action plans to address this have been drawn up by the districts and borough councils. There is also now thought to be no threshold level below which air pollution will have no detrimental effects on health and mortality, and the contribution of anthropogenic particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less has been quantified.

Addressing outdoor pollution will have co-benefits with

  • public health, through an increase in walking and cycling through active travel,
  • climate change, through reduction in CO2 emissions through reduction in combustion of fossil fuel
  • environment and biodiversity, through reduction in chemicals harmful to ecosytems
  • improved energy efficiency

The aim of this document is to inform the Director of Public Health and the Health and Wellbeing Board about the scale and impact of air quality in West Sussex, and, during its development, to contribute to the West Sussex Air Quality Plan.

Download the full needs assessment: PDF Document, 4MB

  1. Every breath we take: The lifelong impact of air pollution. Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health 2016.