Nearly all neighbourhoods in Bolton are exposed to dangerously high air pollution, a new analysis has found.

Analysis from Friends of the Earth, an environmental organisation, shows more than 36.1 million people in England and Wales, including 8 million children, were breathing air with hazardous levels of nitrogen dioxide in 2022.

The analysis revealed 170 neighbourhoods in Bolton, 96 per cent, were exposed to air pollution exceeding the World Health Organisation recommended safety limit. Of these, one neighbourhood had levels of dangerous air particles twice as high as the established standard.

This meant approximately 278,000 people were breathing polluted air in the area in 2022, which has been linked to up to 36,000 premature deaths every year in the UK.

Further figures by the Royal College of Physicians show pollution costs the UK economy £20 billion annually through NHS costs and workdays lost due to illness.

There were 136 schools in the areas of Bolton where the dirty air was recorded, affecting 67,000 children.

Nitrogen dioxide can affect the respiratory system and is associated with higher mortality rates. It is especially dangerous for children as it increases their risk of respiratory infection and may lead to poorer lung function in later life.

The data uses information from the census to divide the country into over 33,000 neighbourhood areas, each with between 1,000 and 3,000 people living there.

Bolton Council’s Executive Member for Climate Change and Environment, Cllr Richard Silvester, said: “I understand that air quality is an important issue and I’m pleased to say that overall, the air we breathe is getting steadily cleaner.

“New zero emissions electric buses, encouraging people to choose walking and cycling instead of the car and our first School Streets project to reduce traffic around schools are all playing a part.

“I’m proud that Bolton is among the first parts of Greater Manchester to benefit from the clean, green electric buses made possible by the recent switch to the Bee Network.

“We’re making it easier for people to cycle and walk by delivering a fully segregated network south of Bolton town centre, which will ultimately extend along Manchester Road to Farnworth.

“And we supported a pilot School Streets project with St Peter’s School in Farnworth that aims to reduce traffic at drop off and pick-up times, making the streets safer and the air cleaner for our young people.”

A Clean Air GM spokesperson said: "Cleaning up the air our residents breathe is a priority for Greater Manchester and we are doing that through delivery of the Bee Network, bringing buses back under local control and connecting journeys with trams and active travel.

“Bolton, along with Wigan and parts of Salford and Bury, is one of the first places to benefit from the Bee Network with 50 new zero emission electric buses now operating in the borough.

“In addition, residents now have access to better services and cheaper fares, as well as travel options that are affordable and sustainable.

“We are continuing to develop the city-region’s investment-led Clean Air Plan, but we are still waiting for evidence from the Government following its review of the national bus retrofit programme announced earlier this year.”

Across England and Wales, three in five neighbourhoods were found to have polluted air.

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said: “It’s a national scandal that millions of people across the country live in areas where air pollution is double the safety level, with children, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions most at risk.”

Mr Childs added: “Rishi Sunak’s back-pedalling on measures aimed at tackling poor air quality – such as funding better cycling provision and financial support and incentives to switch to cleaner cars – will simply prolong people’s misery.

“Most of the areas with really bad air pollution are in Labour constituencies, so if Keir Starmer wins the next election, he will be under intense pressure to give this issue the priority it deserves.”

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “This data makes comparisons to WHO guidelines which are intended to inform the setting of air quality standards and are not ready-made targets for adoption.

“Natural and transboundary sources alone mean that even if all humans left the South East, it would still have levels higher than the WHO guideline.

“We absolutely recognise the importance of protecting people from air pollution – which is why we have set stretching new targets for fine particulate matter and are taking comprehensive action set out in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 to improve air quality for all.”

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