We know how to fight air pollution. So why leave so many to die? | Harry Quilter-Pinner

We seem unwilling to make the big changes necessary. Michael Gove must use the crisis to change the way we now live

What if the water that came out of your taps made you – and thousands of others – ill? How would people respond? Voters would quite rightly demand that the government act decisively to address the problem. Heads would roll in the boardrooms of the big water companies. And demand for alternatives such as bottled water would spike. Yet scientists and campaigners – validated by the UK courts – have been telling us for years that the air we breathe is both lethal and illegal, and the response from our politicians has been negligible.

Invisible pollutants – such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) – put us at higher risk of everything from asthma to stroke, and cancer to heart disease. One study suggests that nearly 60% of the UK’s population live in areas where air pollution is above the legal limit. The end result is staggering: 40,000 early deaths every year in the UK. In London, this makes air pollution the second-biggest health risk, outranking alcohol consumption and obesity.

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