Since becoming a mum, I’ve become even more concerned about the level of air pollution my son is exposed to. High levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in towns across the UK are causing damage to children’s respiratory and cardiovascular systems, which means their lungs may not grow to full size - and it’s something I try incredibly hard to protect my son from.
The air pollution problem in the UK is becoming a huge issue and awareness is growing rapidly. As CEO of Airlabs I am fortunately (or unfortunately some might say!) very aware of air pollution levels around the world, and have access to amazing data monitoring technology to understand where pollution levels are at their highest. This means I am able to take precautions to best avoid air pollution and make sure my son and myself are exposed less pollutants in our daily lives.
While we may not be able to avoid all of it yet, there are 10 simple steps you can take to significantly reduce your exposure across your day.
1. Take care when cooking: Gases and particles are given off when cooking, which can reach harmful levels if not properly ventilated. Cooking with high smoke point oils, such as sunflower, instead of olive oil will reduce smoke and avoid burning food! Ensure the kitchen is properly ventilated when cooking and keep children away if you smell smoke.
2. Cars are not safe havens: Many people wrongly think they are protected inside their car from air pollution, when in fact levels are on average 21% higher than outside. This is because harmful gases from exhausts can pass straight through car air filters and accumulate in car cabins. Set your air to ‘recirculated’ while you are in traffic, this will reuse the air inside the car rather than draw polluted air from outside. We are also launching a product dedicated to removing any and all air pollution from inside a car.
3. Active transport is safer: Walking has many health benefits, including being able to avoid pollution on busy roads which is proven to reduce exposure by 30-60%. If you live in London, plan your routes using online pollution maps for your area and avoid busy roads.
4. Avoid hotspots: Air pollution levels can change significantly within only a few metres. For example, walking on the building side of a pavement versus the roadside can reduce exposure by 30%. Especially if you have a child in a buggy, who is breathing more polluted air closer to the ground, keep back from the roadside when waiting to cross the road or for buses. Other hotspots include taxi ranks and high particulate readings have been found on the deeper tube lines (e.g Northern, Victoria and Central).
5. Watch the wood burner: Indoor wood burners are gaining popularity these days as we all go in search of Hygge but especially older versions can release high levels of particles inside, as well as out into the environment. Check yours, and ensure you ventilate your house frequently.
6. Clean less: Most cleaning products and household goods such as paint and air fresheners release gases into the house when used. That “clean” smell is actually a mix of Volatile Organic Compounds . Chronic exposure to VOCs has been linked to a broad spectrum of health problems, from headaches to asthma and cancer. Reducing use and properly ventilating the house after cleaning and painting can minimise the impact here.
7. Don’t smoke: We all know that smoking indoors (or anywhere) is bad, but even when done outdoors, you bring in many of the pollutants inside on your clothes.
8. Reduce your impact on others: Emissions from cars idling can be very high and concentrate in hotspots such as school drop offs. Reducing car usage is the best option, but if you have to drive be considerate of others and switch your engines off when stopped.
9. Follow pollution levels: Pollution levels change day to day in the same places - mostly based on the weather. The Met Office and London Air Network forecast this so download the apps on your phone for updates. When levels are high take extra care to avoid outdoor air pollution and if exercising, try to avoid peak traffic times.
10. Be aware of those most at risk: The younger the child, the higher the impact of pollution but high risk groups also include the elderly, babies in the womb and asthmatics. For these groups make sure you double the efforts to reduce exposure. Asthmatics suffer short term effects from spikes in air pollution as they feel the effects at lower levels so need extra care wherever they are.
Whilst we wait impatiently for the government to act on air pollution, we can play our own part reducing our own emissions, and we can take these simple steps to materially reduce the exposure of our families.