Living within 50 metres of a major road can increase the risk of lung cancer by up to 10 per cent, according to new research on air pollution.
The study, released by a coalition of 15 health and environment organisations, also showed that proximity to busy highways can stunt children’s lung development by up to 14 per cent.
It suggests that that air pollution contributes to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and bronchitis.
The coalition, which includes the British Lung Foundation and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, said the findings should prompt all political parties to commit to meeting the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) air quality guidelines by 2030.
In addition, the group is urging for the establishment of a national network of Clean Air Zones across the UK.
Dr Rob Hughes, senior fellow at the Clean Air Fund, said: “Air pollution makes us, and especially our children, sick from cradle to the grave, but is often invisible.
“This impressive research makes this public health crisis - which affects people all across the UK - visible, and shows the urgency with which all political parties must prioritise cleaning up our air.”
The study, conducted across 13 different cities in the UK and Poland and written by King’s College London, analysed 13 different health conditions in people living in high pollution areas and compared them to the general population.
It focused not only on hospital admissions and deaths but also symptoms such as chest infections.
The researchers said that if air pollution was cut by one fifth, there would be 3,865 fewer cases of children with bronchitic symptoms in London, 328 in Birmingham, 94 in Bristol, 85 in Liverpool, 85 in Manchester, 134 in Nottingham, 38 in Oxford and 69 in Southampton.
Roadside air pollution stunted lung growth in children by approximately 14 per cent in Oxford, 13 per cent in London, 8 per cent in Birmingham, 5 per cent in Liverpool, 4 per cent in Southampton and 3 per cent in Nottingham.
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “It seems as if every day we see more and more evidence of the terrible health effects air pollution is having on our lungs.
“It’s the most vulnerable that are hit hardest. We know air pollution stunts our children’s still-developing lungs and those with a lung condition can find their symptoms are made far worse by poor air quality.”
Last month Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, warned of a “health emergency” after it was revealed that high air pollution was causing hundreds more children and adults to suffer cardiac arrests, strokes or severe asthma attacks.