MORE than one in 24 deaths in Belfast are now linked to air pollution, new research has claimed.
Up to 178 deaths in Belfast in 2017 were linked to exposure to the toxin PM2.5 in just one year, with the deadly levels of air pollution currently legal in Northern Ireland.
The statistics were revealed in a report by Centre for Cities, a research and policy institute dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities.
It has called on government authorities to invest more money into tackling the problem in a bid to prevent more deaths.
Road transport was identified as a significant source of air pollution as well as burning fuels with half of deadly PM2.5 toxins generated in cities and large towns coming from sources such as wood burning stoves and coal fires.
The research found that the proportion of deaths was highest in cities and large towns in south eastern England such as Slough, Luton and London, where an estimated one in 16 people died from exposure.
But the study found while the number of deaths is lower than in some other UK capitals, Belfast is the second biggest per head emitter of PM2.5 in the UK, after Swansea.
Centre for Cities is calling on the UK government and Northern Ireland Executive to "do more to help politicians in Belfast act".
It said World Health Organisation’s air pollution guidelines should be adopted and a legally binding commitment should be made to meet this by 2030.
It also suggested financial incentives for cities to improve air quality through the establishment of an Environmental Impact Bond.
Andrew Carter from Centre for Cities said: "More than half of people in the UK live in cities and large towns.
"And while they offer people good employment and lifestyle opportunities Cities Outlook 2020 shows that they also having a damaging effect on their health, with air pollution killing thousands of people living in cities every year.
"Politicians often talk tough on addressing air pollution but we need to see more action.
"People in Belfast should be at the centre of the fight against its toxic air and the council should take the steps needed, including charging people to drive in the city centre and banning wood burning stoves.
"To help the government needs to provide Belfast with extra money and introduce stricter guidelines.
"The deadly levels of polluted air in Belfast are entirely legal. This needs to change.
"As a matter of urgency the government should adopt WHO’s stricter guidelines around PM2.5 emissions. Failure to act now will lead to more deaths in Belfast."