TOXIC traffic pollution kills more than 50 people a year in Brighton, according to shocking new research.

Scientists found up to 54 people living in the heart of the city die prematurely every year due to exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a gas emitted by road traffic.

This puts Brighton on a par with London. There are the same or similar rates in Islington, Camden and Tower Hamlets.

And Brighton’s NO2 death toll accounts for 16 per cent of all deaths in the area.

The research from Edinburgh University looked at the health effects of NO2 in the central area of Brighton where traffic is heaviest, including West Street, Old Steine, Lewes Road, London Road and Kingsway.

About 45,000 people live in the area studied.

Brighton mother Sara Castillo, who was pushing her two-year-old son Leo in a pram down Old Steine, one of the worst hit streets, said she was frightened about pollution in the city. She said: “The fumes are really bad for your health. We used to live in east London where the pollution is terrible and we came here to get away from it.

“We thought the fresh sea air would be cleaner. But I’m really worried because my son is growing up here. I don’t want him to get sick.”

“I’m worried about the Valley Gardens project here too. I’ve seen people with notices about the pollution in their windows.

“It can’t be good if there will be a bigger road with more cars.”

In London, the introduction of an ultra low emission zone in April this year has reduced NO2 by 29 per cent.

Brighton and Hove city councillor Amy Healey, a Green who represents Preston Park, said: “In October I proposed an ultra low emission zone for the city that would be inspired by the London model, which limits access of high emission vehicles to city centre. The council must do this in order to tackle air pollution and generate income to be ringfenced for cycling, walking infrastructure and subsidising bus fares.

“We need to treat air pollution for what it really is – a public health and environmental emergency.”

Exposure to NO2, principally emitted by road traffic exhausts, is known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular illness and increase the risk of birth defects and dementia.

Speaking on behalf of the council, Councillor Anne Pissaridou said: “This study is a wake-up call in Brighton and Hove for everyone to take responsibility and step up actions to improve local air quality.

“NO2 emissions are caused by having too many petrol vehicles being driven in the city so we need people to use public transport, to cycle and walk more and change to low emission private vehicles.

“Our focus in 2020 will be to work with all our communities to bring down emissions by moving to low-carbon transport and active travel such as walking and cycling so that we can remove the health risk to residents.

“Individuals can make a huge difference not only in the way they travel themselves but by encouraging others to do the same – asking visitors to travel by train or bus, for example, or asking companies they regularly use whether they are using low emission delivery vehicles.

“We’re pleased the study references the overlap between the sources of NO2 emissions and climate change actions – in the new year we will be introducing a climate assembly that will focus on transport as one of the highest causes of carbon emissions. The outcome will influence new policy and create opportunities for real change.

“The Valley Gardens scheme aims to improve the environment in the city centre and reduce the need to travel by private vehicles by making it easier, safer and more enjoyable to travel by public transport, bike or on foot.

“Last year we introduced an ultra low emission zone for buses in the North Street and Western Road corridor of the city centre. In 2020 the council will explore what powers and resources we could call upon for additional measures such as introducing clean air zones beyond the current boundary of the ultra low emission zone.

“We are also encouraging low-emissions transport by installing an additional 200 electric vehicle charging points that will make it more feasible for people using electric vehicles and enabling more people to cycle through the popular Bikeshare scheme.

“We hope this research will help us access additional funding so that we can make the maximum impact to reduce NO2 emissions and improve the health impact across the whole city.”