Newham is the most polluted borough in the UK, a study has revealed.

Newham Recorder: Jacob West from the British Heart Foundation. Picture: BHFJacob West from the British Heart Foundation. Picture: BHF (Image: Archant)

Levels of pollution in the borough increase the risk of an early death by the equivalent of smoking an average 159 cigarettes per year, a British Heart Foundation (BHF) analysis shows.

Newham's annual average PM2.5 - tiny bits of dust, soot or drops of liquid measuring no more than 2.5 micrometres (?gm) - is 12.5?gm, 0.2?gm higher than second worst Westminster.

Cllr Mas Patel, Newham's air quality commissioner, said: "This report puts into sharp focus the absolute need to clean up Newham's air."

On whether problems are being tackled fast enough, he added: "We all want to see change happen quickly. Newham is at the forefront of local authorities responding to the climate emergency. Through our air quality action plan, we will clean up the air we breathe."

PM2.5 can have a seriously detrimental effect on heart health, worsening existing conditions and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, research has shown.

Average daily PM2.5 in the 10 worst-polluted local authorities is 12.2 ?gm-3 - which would be the same as smoking 155 ciggies per year.

Helen Masterson from Newham Council said: "This report shows how critical it is to take action. Poor air quality affects everyone and more worryingly the physical development of young people who account for over 38 per cent of residents.

"Newham Council has come a long way in a short space of time. We will make the changes necessary to save residents' lives."

Newham plans better walking and cycle paths; anti-car idling measures; more electric charging points; road closure pilots and air quality monitors outside schools.

A spokeswoman for campaign group Fossil Free Newham described the report as "frightening", saying: "We're campaigning to ensure the council's new air quality plan goes far and fast enough to slash Newham's carbon emissions."

Activist Simon Shaw from Extinction Rebellion Newham asked why more isn't being done to tackle the borough's "illegal" air quality.

Victoria Rance, part of a campaign to halt plans to build a £1billion road tunnel between Greenwich and Silvertown, said: "What on Earth is the mayor of London thinking in allowing a new motorway tunnel to come into Newham which already has the worst air quality in London?

"This toxic tunnel will create even worse air quality, bringing black carbon and other particulate matter to Newham residents who are already suffering a major health emergency. I feel nothing but fury on their behalf."

Sadiq Khan argues the construction - combined with tolls on the Blackwall Tunnel and at Silvertown - will play a vital role in tackling congestion, improving air quality and provide additional bus services across the river.

The BHF branded toxic air a public health emergency, urging the next government to pass into law tougher World Health Organisation (WHO) pollution limits.

The charity's Jacob West said: "Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame."

A government spokeswoman said its £3.5billion plans include ambitious clean air targets.

To crunch the numbers, the BHF compared estimates of the years of life lost due to smoking to those lost and attributed to PM2.5