BREATHING in Colchester’s air is the equivalent to smoking 123 cigarettes every year, a charity has warned.

Research carried out by the British Heart Foundation caused the charity to call on the UK to declare air pollution a public health emergency.

The charity looked at particulate matter pollution, in particular the link between poor heart health and PM2.5 - pollution which comes from sources including diesel fumes and wood burning.

Its figures show Colchester has an average daily PM2.5 exposure of 9.7mg per cubic metre, which in health terms is the equivalent to smoking 123 cigarettes per year.

Tendring fares slightly better with a PM2.5 reading of 9.1mg, comparable to smoking 116 cigarettes annually.

Both are below World Health Organisation limits but the charity insisted PM2.5 can have a “seriously detrimental effect” on heart health.

Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the BHF, 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 Colchester Council spokesman said the authority had recently launched a two year project to raise awareness of air quality issues across the borough.

“While studies continue to show there is no single solution to improving air quality, we recognise that pollution levels in some areas do remain stubbornly high and that we do need to continue to ensure that air quality improvements are considered and introduced at every opportunity,” he said.

“The project’s objectives are to reduce the numbers of vehicles on the road by increasing the number of people walking and cycling for short journeys and to encourage widespread take-up of no idling when vehicles are stationary at junctions and traffic lights.

 “This will be achieved through working closely with the community, partners and stakeholders to explore the issues around what causes air pollution and raise awareness of the health impacts of air pollution.”