Pollution levels in some areas of the UK surpassed the yearly limit in the first five days of 2017.
It is a legal requirement that levels of nitrogen oxide – a harmful greenhouse gas produced mainly in diesel fumes – do not surpass 200 micrograms per cubic meter more than 18 times in a year.
Climate change campaigners have expressed shock at the revelation, with Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, telling The Guardian that “this combination of toxic air pollution levels and freezing temperatures pose a serious risk to people with lung conditions and can affect all of our health.”
Research into the effects of high pollution has revealed links to dementia, lung disease and diabetes amongst other illnesses.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland, a branch of the international organisation focused on highlighting the dangers of climate change, have revealed that pollution levels in Scotland have also reached record levels.
38 zones north of the border are regularly recorded to have dangerous levels of pollution. This represents an increase of five on last year.
Speaking to the BBC, Emilia Hanna, campaigner for FoE, warned that small children and pregnant women were among those most affected.
She criticised the Scottish government for “not tackling this public health crisis with the seriousness and urgency required,” arguing that the right to breathe clean air is synonymous with the right to drink clean water.
A report published by the European Environment Agency in November revealed that Britain has the second highest number of annual deaths from pollution in the world.
Almost 12,000 people were judged to have died prematurely from nitrogen oxide in 2013, a record only lower than Italy.
However, research by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has suggested that the number could be as high as 40,000.
A government enquiry into levels of pollution in Britain, led by MP Neil Parish, concluded that funding for councils tackling pollution needed increasing.
Parish also called for a “big push” on the production of electric vehicles across the UK.
The current funding for such projects across the UK amounts to £3 million, which Parish labelled “not nearly enough”.
New regulations beginning in April of this year will see an increase of car taxes for those using fossil fuel vehicles. Only cars emitting no greenhouse gases will be exempt from the heightened tax levels.
Transport analysts have suggested that 2017 will see a record number of zero-emission cars. The government body Go Ultra Low predicts that over 100,000 electric cars will be on UK roads by July.
Image: David Holt