CHILDREN in Southend are breathing in the same amount of polluted air as smoking 124 cigarettes each year.

The British Heart Foundation is urging the Government to declare air pollution a “public health emergency” after revealing the impact it is having on towns and cities across the country.

The charity has said they want national targets to be introduced by the Government to reduce air pollution by 2030.

Lib Dem councillor Carole Mulroney, who oversees environmental issues for Southend Council, said: “Obviously a report from an eminent organisation such as the British Heart Foundation has to be taken seriously.

“It is important that we work with our Public Health colleagues and air quality officers and do everything we can to reduce the levels of air pollution.

“This is at the heart of the environmental agenda for the joint administration.

“We are moving forward with better monitoring techniques which provide us with better quality of information and enable our officers to look at the most appropriate action to take.

“We have a heavily-populated area, heavy traffic concentrations and, of course, the airport, so there are many challenges.

“This is why we need Government to support all local authorities with funding and legislation to enable us to carry out these tasks as quickly as possible and for local businesses to buy into the need for clean air within their own fields of expertise so that this type of statistic becomes a thing of the past.”

High levels of pollution can have a “seriously detrimental effect on heart health”, according to the British Heart Foundation, and they can increase the risk of heart attacks, while also making existing health issues worse.

Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the charity, said: “Air pollution is a major public health emergency and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves.

“Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame.

“The effect of air pollution is profound.”