June 26 (UPI) -- Air quality improvements over the last 40 years in the United Kingdom have led to a significant reduction in the death rate.
According to a new study -- published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters -- levels of fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and non-methane volatile organic compounds in the U.K. have all been significantly reduced over the last four decades.
As a result, the death rate for respiratory disease caused or worsened by pollution declined by 56 percent. The death rate for cardiovascular diseases caused or worsened by pollution declined by 44 percent. Scientists determined the declines in particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide provided the greatest human health benefits.
Researchers credited technology improvements with the reduction in air pollutants.
"Technology advances over the past 40 years, such as the three-way catalytic converter for cars and equipment to reduce sulphur and nitrogen dioxide emissions from large power plants have contributed to significant reductions in emission levels and therefore improved public health," Edward Carnell, researcher at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology, CEH, said in a news release. "However, it is legislation that has driven these technological improvements."
"Our results demonstrate the effectiveness of a series of policies at U.K. and European level since 1970 and this research supports policy-makers' efforts to continue implementing much-needed measures to further improve air quality," Carnell said.
Researchers credited legislation passed by the U.K. Parliament, as well as United Nations agreements and E.U. initiatives, with spurring the adoption of air quality improvement technologies.
Despite the good news, air quality issues are still a problem in the U.K. Nitrogen dioxide levels are still above the legal limit in some cities, and ammonia emissions have been on the rise in recent years.
"Ammonia contributes not only to threats to human health, but also causes biodiversity loss," said CEH researcher Stefan Reis. "However, for the past 30 years, it has been the 'forgotten pollutant.'"
Researchers hope new legislation and government initiatives will help curb nitrogen dioxide and ammonia emissions.