Environment Exclusive Investigation 

DIRTY 30: The top super-polluters who fill our air with deadly toxins

A quarter of the UK’s poisonous nitrogen oxides emissions are pumped out of only thirty industrial sources, new research has found – many of which are consolidated around low-income areas in the north and southwest of England.
As the government faces extreme pressure to rewrite clean air policies and reduce levels of harmful gas emissions on our roads, new analysis has revealed that a staggering proportion of the UK’s pollution comes from a comparatively tiny number of industrial sites.
A quantitate study of DEFRA’s census of industrial sites has shown that the emissions of industrial and power plants still dwarf those of road traffic – the central focus of the government’s recent attempt to reform energy policy by outcasting diesel engines by 2040. Even more shockingly, only 30 of the biggest emitters of NOx alone (out of 2,000 in total) are responsible for almost a quarter of the UK’s total.
Nitrogen Oxides, a group of related gases, are linked to a rise in coronary heart disease, lung complaints and other adverse health effects.
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Our list of ‘Dirty 30’ polluters includes the biggest coal-fired power plants in the UK, like Drax and Ratcliffe on Soar, as well as major steelworks like Port Talbot. Together the handful of sites accounts for 216,000 tonnes of NOx between them – 60.8 per cent of the industry total of 506,150 tonnes, which dwarfs that of all road traffic at 443,510.
The data comes from DEFRA’s National Air Emissions Inventory, a pollution census last taken in 2014 – the next inventory is expected to be published this year. And the figures suggest the UK’s biggest polluters are overwhelmingly concentrated to the North East, Liverpool and Manchester with high prevalence in the heartlands around Leeds, Sheffield and the East Midlands. These areas also display a disproportionate level of recorded lung complaints and coronary heart disease, alongside London and the other most populous areas of the UK which record the most road traffic.
In a separate list of Carbon Dioxide emitters, 80 per cent of the total of 46.2 million tonnes of emissions came from the top 30 polluters.
Methodology
This research drew the largest emission points sources from the NAEI 2014 to map the 30 most prolific emitters in each of the five main pollutants – including NOx, cO2, lead and fine particulates (PM2.5 and PM10), as well as a consolidated map of the 30 biggest polluters across the different pollutants, scored by their average rank for each.
The heatmaps chart the density of GP practices who recorded the highest prevalence of CHD and respiratory complaints as a proportion of their full patient roster. It should be noted that the maps are weighted in favour of urban areas, where there are more GP surgeries in total and therefore a greater likelihood of a appearing in the top 1,000.
You can explore the map in the links below – detailing the name of each point source, who owns it and their recorded emissions of the main pollutants in 2014.
The Dirty 30 – UK Map
Super-Polluters index map (Filter to see the Dirty 30 for each pollutant.)
Prevalence of Coronary Heart Disease by GP practice (Top 1000)

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