Air pollution is a cradle to grave issue; in fact, research has shown that if a baby is exposed to air pollution in the womb it can alter its development. Nobody is immune. We are all at risk of the toxic air that surrounds us. The impact is even greater on the vulnerable: children, the elderly and those living with an existing lung condition.
In October 2017, it was revealed that air pollution has exceeded World Health Organization safe limits in 44 out of 51 urban areas. This simply cannot be ignored.
The UK’s air quality is more than a hot topic. It’s a public health crisis, that affects us all.
Air pollution can get deep into our lungs, irritating the airways and making us feel very out of breath, as well as increasing our chances of developing a lung condition.
We know that it increases our risk of getting lung cancer. For those with lung conditions it makes their symptoms worse and generally makes life harder. They may experience breathing difficulties when pollution levels are high. People we support have told us that air pollution often makes them feel like prisoners in their own home as they are frightened to go outside and risk the gasping sensation of breathlessness.
Children are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of air pollution as their lungs are not fully developed. Filthy air can stunt their lung growth, making them more susceptible to conditions such as asthma and chronic chest problems.
Short-term exposure to air pollution can lead to wheeziness, shortness of breath and coughing. Long-term exposure to dirty air increases the risk of developing lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Filthy air can stunt their lung growth, making them more susceptible to conditions such as asthma and chronic chest problems
The main culprit responsible for polluting our air is traffic emissions.
Reducing diesel vehicles on our roads is a major part of the solution. In last year’s budget, the chancellor announced an increase on the first year rate of vehicle excise duty for new diesel cars. The government also published a new air quality plan that covers many more cities across the UK. This is progress, but more needs to be done.
At the British Lung Foundation we’re calling on the government to fund a targeted diesel scrappage scheme that provides incentives for electric vehicles, public transport, walking and cycling.
Cleaner modes of transport are vital for our health and the health of the future generations to come.
There are also small, everyday changes we can do to protect ourselves against air pollution. Avoid spending long periods of time in highly polluted areas such as busy main roads. Look for alternative routes if walking to school or work, such as taking back roads away from congestion or finding a short cut through a park or green space.
Small changes all add up. Cycling instead of taking the car or simply travelling a little earlier during rush hour can help protect you against air pollution.
We all have a right to breathe clean air and the time to act is now. For the sake of our own health and the health of future generations.
Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation