We are in the midst of a public health emergency. There's something in the air that's prematurely killing 29,000 people in the UK each year. We often can't see it but this killer's been implicated in causing coronary heart disease, heart attack, heart rhythm disorders and cardiac arrest, heart failure and more recently stroke. So what is this invisible killer?
It's air pollution and no, it doesn't just affect your lungs. Although, according to a poll the BHF commissioned, nine in ten people know that air pollution can worsen asthma, less than half are aware of its link with heart conditions and just in two in ten know that it increases stroke risk.
With a killer of this magnitude, implicated in contributing to so many conditions, I imagine you're wondering what is being done about it. The UK Government is fighting but not in the way you might hope. It is currently fighting legal proceedings launched by the European Commission for failing to meet EU air quality standards.
Like smoking and diet, air pollution is a modifiable risk factor. There are actions individuals can take to slightly mitigate their risk. But ultimately, this is an issue that only governments can tackle and it is disgraceful that many places in the UK won't have air quality within EU limits until 2030 or later. This will be 20 years after the EU deadline and hundreds of thousands may well have died due to inaction.
Legal pollution limits are set by the EU as part of the Air Quality Directive. The UK is currently breaching these limits in 38 of 43 air quality zones and is therefore breaking EU law. Even in the five zones below EU limits, air quality is questionable. The World Health Organization does not think the EU limits go far enough to protect health.
Last year the European Society of Cardiology published their position on air pollution and cardiovascular disease. This analysis of the available research evidence was led by BHF Professor David Newby, who has worked on this for well over a decade. As well as being a worrying review of the biology behind this killer, the experts recommend that efforts to reduce exposure to air pollution be urgently intensified and supported by appropriate and effective legislation.
We are one of 14 charities and organisations signed up as partners in the Healthy Air Campaign, which is calling on the UK Government to take action for cleaner air. One of the organisations, ClientEarth, has a case against the UK Government over illegal levels of air pollution and it will return to the UK Supreme Court on 16 April 2015.
There is a consensus in the medical community and among the major charities in this area. There is overwhelming and terrifying evidence, which is increasing every year. So we are all calling on the UK Government, ahead of the UK Supreme Court ruling on this issue next month, to do all that is possible, as quickly as it can, to protect the population from unnecessary risk of hospitalisation and death from air pollution. Every delay is putting more people at risk. Action is needed now. It's already too late.
Find out more about air pollution and your cardiovascular health on our website: bhf.org.uk/airpollution.