PUBLIC health bosses at a local authority which has declared a climate emergency have urged residents to step up their environmental efforts after a report identified climate change as a “major threat” to people’s health.

Darlington Borough Council public health principal Ken Ross was speaking ahead of the authority’s health and wellbeing board considering warnings issued by Public Health England in its annual health protection report for the North East.

The report stated one of the most significant changes over the last year had been the increased public perception of the importance of environmental public health. The report added: “It has also been a year when the reality of the threat to public health from climate change has been widely acknowledged and the urgent need for action more fully understood. “

The study found while road transport and industrial burning of fossil fuels are two of the central sources of pollution in the region, a recent rise in the popularity of wood burning stoves and open fires was making a significant contribution to particulate matter or fine ash.

This year’s Air Quality Annual Status Report by the authority concluded that there had been no nitrogen dioxide in public areas of Darlington had been kept below the government target, but Darlington ranked fifth lowest in the North East in terms of particulate matter, which has been linked to about 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year.

High temperatures also raise the levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air that exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Mr Ross said residents could help tackle air pollution, which is associated with a number of adverse health impacts, such as heart disease and cancer and particularly affects the most vulnerable in society, by lifestyle changes such as cutting down on car journeys, buying more local food and using low carbon heating.

He said unless climate change was arrested, it would impact on public health in a variety of ways in Darlington in the coming years. He said high summer temperatures would contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, while there was a “creeping north” of diseases previously limited to the continent.

Mr Ross said he expected extreme weather events such as the recent flooding in South Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales to significantly affect people’s health in the coming years and more standing water would help incubate diseases spread by insects such as mosquitoes.

He added: “We’re not really equipped to deal with climate change. The way our houses are built, for example. is not designed for extremes of weather. We have to plan to protect vulnerable people.”