How clean is our air?

The harmful impact of air pollution on health has been known for some time.   Air pollution has been linked to the development of a range of diseases including cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes and obesity as well as to changes linked to dementia.  It is also known that spikes in air pollution make the situation worse for people already suffering from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Air pollution is harmful to health

“The air we breathe is filled with cancer-causing substances,” said Dr Kurt Straif of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organisation (WHO).  “Outdoor air pollution is not only a major environmental risk to health in general, it is the most important environmental cancer killer due to the large number of people exposed.”   Earlier this year WHO described air pollution levels as a global “public health emergency” which will have untold financial implications for governments.

Air quality has both improved and worsened

The UK has seen a distinct improvement in air quality over the last eighty years as sulphur dioxide emissions from factories were reduced, the use of coal as a domestic fuel was banned, then lead removed from petrol.  However, since then we have seen a massive increase in the number of vehicles on the road.  The proportion of diesel cars has risen, partly due to being marketed as a ‘greener’ alternative to petrol cars due to their better fuel efficiency.  Both petrol and diesel cars have contributed and continue to contribute significantly to the poor air quality we have today.  However, it is known that diesel cars in particular are responsible for the high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emitted.  These pollutants are the most damaging to health.

Every breath we take

The Royal College of Physicians published a report earlier this year entitled  “Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution.”  This working party report from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paedriatics and Child Health looks at the impact of exposure to air pollution across the course of a lifetime.  It sets out proposals for action at all levels of society, from governments to individuals and calls on us all to work together to address air pollution.

Combat climate change to improve health

WHO says that if countries reduce their air pollution levels they will improve the short and long-term respiratory and cardiovascular health of their populations.

Doctors and environmentalists agree on a number of actions which will help combat climate change, lead to better air quality and lead to improved health.  These include:

  • improving the energy efficiency of your home – Low Carbon West Oxford can offer advice and support to residents of West Oxford
  • using public transport, or walking or cycling especially for short journeys – sign up now to the Low Carbon Oxford Week Challenge to “Park the car”
  • buying or leasing an electric car, if you’re thinking of changing your car – you can test drive an electric car on 19th June in Oxford as part of Low Carbon Oxford Week 2016
  • keeping your gas appliances and solid fuel burners in good repair
  • asking your city and county councillors to improve cycle lanes and reduce the number of commuter journeys along Botley Road
  • lobbying your MP to ensure the government fulfils the pledges it made at the Paris Climate Change talks to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2 degrees C
  • supporting the switch from fossil fuels to renewables by switching to a ‘green’ energy supplier and/or investing in community-owned renewable energy projects – Oxfordshire’s Low Carbon Hub recently launched its Share Offer 2016 for a hydro energy project at Sandford Lock and a portfolio of 18 solar PV projects on schools and businesses across the county
  • learning more about air quality and keeping yourself informed about pollution levels so you can take avoiding action if necessary – the Oxfordshire Air Quality website provides daily information on air quality