'Deprived areas suffer most from pollution', says expert

Posted: 29 January 2004

People living in the most deprived areas of England are more likely to suffer the effects of pollution, says a leading expert from Staffordshire University.

Smoke from the chimneys of the London Brick Company works, UK. Photo: Martin Bond/Science Photo Library
Smoke from the chimneys of the London Brick Company works, UK. Photo: Martin Bond/Science Photo Library
Smoke from the chimneys of the London Brick Company works, UK.© Martin Bond/Science Photo Library

Professor Gordon Walker, Director of the Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Staffordshire University, made his comments after the publication of results from the biggest research project of its kind ever conducted in the UK. He argues that social injustice has to be tackled through environmental as well as economic policies.

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:

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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.
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.

Professor Walker, Research at Staffordshire University, led the project in partnership with colleagues from the University of Leeds. The research was commissioned by the UK's Environment Agency.

This report, Environmental Quality and Social Deprivation, is part of the Environment Agency's ongoing study and builds on previous research published in Our Urban Future (September 2002).

A summary and full reports on the research can also be obtained from the Environment Agency R&D Dissemination Centre, c/o WRc, Frankland Road, Swindon, Wilts SN5 8YF. Tel: +$4 (0)1793 865 000, fax: +44 (0)1793 514 562, email: .