Glasgow and Scunthorpe are the worst offenders.

Some 44 UK towns and cities breach guidelines on air quality, according to new research published this week.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) found that cities including Leeds, London and Southampton are all exceeding the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended limit for particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns.

According to the Department for the Environment, road vehicles are an ‘important source’ of these so-called PM2.5 particles, although other forms of transport and industrial activity are also major contributors.

WHO guidelines say the amount of ‘PM2.5’ particles in the atmosphere should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic litre (µg/m3) of air, but Glasgow and Scunthorpe both recorded an annual average of 16µg/m3.

Leeds, Salford, Southampton and Eastbourne all followed close behind, averaging 15µg/m3.

Cities including Manchester (13µg/m3), York (12µg/m3) and Bristol (13µg/m3) also failed to make the grade, but Edinburgh, Bournemouth and Inverness all passed muster.

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But while just 17 of the 51 UK urban areas included in the WHO’s database were found to meet the organisation’s recommendations, all 51 fell in line with the EU’s recommended PM2.5 limit of 25µg/m3.

According to the RCP, though, the WHO guidelines are far safer than the EU limits, with air pollution being linked to many chronic health problems, including cardiovascular issues and respiratory problems.

Such is the scale of the issue that the RCP estimates that air pollution causes approximately 40,000 premature deaths and six million sick days annually, costing the country around £22.6 billion a year.

The RCP said: ‘The UK Government must act on air pollution as an urgent policy priority, as cleaner air can help prevent disease and suffering, reduce premature mortality and save billions in public money, whilst helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, it should expand Clean Air Zones nationwide and provide adequate funding for this.’