‘Deprived areas suffer most from pollution’ – says expert

A leading expert from Staffordshire University – who led a study which revealed that people living in the most deprived areas of England are more likely to suffer the effects of pollution – says social injustice has to be tackled through environmental as well as economic policies.

Professor Gordon Walker from Staffordshire University made his comments after the publication of the results from the biggest research project of its kind ever conducted in the UK.

Professor Walker, Director of the Institute for Environment and Sustainability Research at Staffordshire University, led the project in partnership with colleagues from the University of Leeds. The research was commissioned by the Environment Agency.

According to the study people living in England’s most deprived neighbourhoods bear the burden of air pollution, factory emissions and flooding risk.

“Clearly there is an environmental dimension to social injustice. Therefore regeneration cannot just be about creating more jobs or wanting to boost the local economy – it must also have an environmental element,” said Professor Walker. The research found that:

1) In some parts of the country, deprived communities bear the greatest burden of poor air quality.

In England, the most deprived wards experience the highest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), fine particulates (PM10), sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and benzene. People in deprived wards are exposed to 41 per cent higher concentrations of NO2 , than people living in wards of average deprivation. There are also clusters of wards that have poor aggregate air quality and high deprivation in London, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Liverpool. However, in Wales, although air quality is generally better, air pollution concentrations are highest in the least deprived wards.

2) Industrial sites where emissions into the environment have to be carefully controlled – known as Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) sites – are located disproportionately in deprived areas in England.

There are five times more sites and authorisations, and seven times more emission sources, in wards containing the most deprived 10 per cent of the population, than in wards with the least deprived 10 per cent. In deprived areas, IPC sites are: more clustered together; on average produce greater numbers of emissions; present a greater pollution hazard; produce more ‘offensive’ pollutants; produce higher emissions of PM10 and carcinogens. In Wales, patterns are very different – there is only some bias towards deprived areas found when looking at multiple sites, while emission levels showed some bias towards affluent areas.

3) Tidal floodplain populations in England are strongly biased towards deprived communities. There are eight times more people from the most deprived 10 per cent of the population living in tidal floodplains, than from the least deprived 10 per cent. However, river floodplain populations are weakly biased towards more affluent communities in England. The relationship between flooding and deprivation is less distinct in Wales.

These findings were produced through the use of digital mapping at Staffordshire University’s state-of-the-art Geographical Information Systems (GIS) lab. Researchers were able to match environmental information from the Environment Agency with socio-economic data.

Professor Walker said it was the biggest study of its kind ever conducted in the UK and it had huge ramifications for policy-makers.

This analysis builds on previous Environment Agency research published in ‘Our Urban Future’ (September 2002).

Media Contact

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