RESIDENTS and councillors have expressed alarm after a report found air pollution levels in Thurrock had reached illegally high levels.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) shot past the legal limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre in 2014.

The figures, compiled from council data by environment campaigners ClientEarth, revealed levels in Elizabeth Road, Grays, reached an annual average of 53 mcg, while London Road, in Purfleet, reached 58mcg and Lakeside, 50mcg.

ClientEarth is planning to launch legal action against the Government if steps are not taken to reduce levels of the gas in the next few days.

In total, illegally high levels of NO2 were recorded at more than 250 sites across the East of England.

The gas is released when diesel fuel or boilerfuel is burned, and has been linked by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with respiratory problems such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Resident Barry Chawner, 41, Thurrock Breathe Easy chairman and a COPD sufferer, said: “We are very concerned. Pollution has definitely got worse in the past few years and there are far more people with lung problems in Thurrock at the moment.

“A lot of my group suffer from severe COPD and some of my group are on oxygen therapy.

“One day they’ll get to the stage where the oxygen doesn’t work and then where does that leave them?”

Councillor Gerard Rice, who is in charge of the environment in Thurrock, said: “We have got the worst air quality outside of London and there’s medical evidence to show an increase of asthma across Thurrock.

“The Government has a legal duty to safeguard its citizens and I don’t think it is doing that.

“Lawyers don’t take a government to court for fun, they do it based on evidence.”

A spokesman for the council said it was aware of the problem, adding NO2 levels had dropped to within legal limits since the reported readings.

The most up-to-date data, based on NO2 test figures, has not yet been released for 2015.

Andrea Lee, healthy air campaigner for ClientEarth, said: “We have given the Government just ten days to show it is serious about tackling this public health crisis.

“If it doesn’t, we will be taking it to court.”