Green and pleas­ant Bucks is a life saver

Trees and plants found to be help­ing NHS avoid £10m in health costs

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NEWS -

A study for the Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics (ONS) re­veals that in 2015 the NHS avoided £10.3 mil­lion in health costs thanks to air qual­ity im­prove­ments by nat­u­ral veg­e­ta­tion. That’s £19.52 for ev­ery res­i­dent.

Na­tion­ally, the ONS es­ti­mates there were 7,100 fewer lung and heart-re­lated hospi­tal ad­mis­sions, 27,000 fewer life years lost and 1,900 fewer pre­ma­ture deaths thanks to the ser­vice pro­vided by na­ture. The sav­ing for the whole of the UK was £1 bil­lion.

Wood­lands, grass­lands and shrubs in Buck­ing­hamshire ab­sorbed 10.2 tonnes of air pol­lu­tants - about 65kg of con­tam­i­nants per hectare.

Top of the rank­ing was Breck­land and South Nor­folk, with 75.2 kg fil­tered by ev­ery hectare of land. Lam­beth ranked bot­tom, fil­ter­ing just 5.1 kg for hectare.

The most harm­ful of these sub­stances is PM2.5, small par­ti­cles with a di­am­e­ter of less than 2.5 mi­crome­tres - about 3% of the di­am­e­ter of a hu­man hair. These par­ti­cles can trig­ger chronic dis­ease such as asthma, heart dis­ease, bron­chi­tis, and cause other res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems

The data also in­cludes PM10, sul­phur diox­ide, ni­tro­gen diox­ide, groundlevel ozone and am­mo­nia.

In Buck­ing­hamshire, ozone was the pol­lu­tant most ab­sorbed by plants, mak­ing up about 76% of the to­tal.

Ac­cord­ing to the ONS, trees ac­count for the high­est vol­ume of air pol­lu­tants re­moved by veg­e­ta­tion.

Over­all, the study shows that 1.4 bil­lion kg of harm­ful sub­stances were taken out by veg­e­ta­tion in the UK in 2015.

Pro­fes­sor Paul Cos­ford, med­i­cal direc­tor and direc­tor of health pro­tec­tion at Pub­lic Health Eng­land, said: “Air pol­lu­tion is a grow­ing threat to the pub­lic’s health, ev­i­dence shows it has a strong causal as­so­ci­a­tion with coro­nary heart dis­ease, stroke, lung cancer and child­hood asthma.”

Karen Ex­ley, head of Pub­lic Health Eng­land’s air qual­ity and pub­lic health group, said: “Longterm ex­po­sure to par­tic­u­late mat­ter is known to be a con­trib­u­tory fac­tor in early deaths, par­tic­u­larly for peo­ple with car­dio­vas­cu­lar and res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease, and is es­ti­mated to have an ef­fect equiv­a­lent to 29,000 deaths a year in the UK.

“Long-term ex­po­sure to ni­tro­gen diox­ide is also thought to con­trib­ute to early deaths al­though its ef­fects have yet to be quan­ti­fied.”

A study pub­lished by the British Heart Foun­da­tion last week links lev­els of air pol­lu­tion well below the UK’s cur­rent le­gal lim­its with se­ri­ous changes in the heart struc­ture.

Si­mon Gillespie, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive at the British Heart Foun­da­tion, said: “Al­though the in­crease in heart cham­ber size is small in this study, it is an early warn­ing sign, which may ex­plain the in­creased risk of heart fail­ure in in­di­vid­u­als ex­posed to higher level of pol­lu­tion. We urge the Govern­ment to adopt the more strin­gent World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion air qual­ity guide­lines.”

The health and so­cial care costs of air pol­lu­tion in Eng­land could reach £18.6 bil­lion by 2035 un­less ac­tion is taken, ac­cord­ing to Pub­lic Health Eng­land.

Last year, the cost was es­ti­mated to be £157 mil­lion.

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